As vaccination efforts continue to fall behind, fears are growing of another major resurgence of coronavirus infections.
Tehran, Iran – Iran braces for a new wave of COVID-19 infections as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreads in the country’s southern and southeastern provinces.
Concerned on Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani noted that compliance with health protocols such as the use of masks and physical distancing had decreased.
“If we are not careful enough, there are fears that the country may face a fifth wave,” he said during a televised session of the anti-coronavirus task force.
Official figures show that the pandemic has so far killed nearly 85,000 people in Iran, the worst-affected country in the Middle East. At least 3.23 million cases have been recorded in the country of more than 83 million people.
According to the latest update from the Ministry of Health, 92 counties in about half of the country’s 32 provinces, including Tehran, are now classified as “red” on a color scale indicating the severity of epidemics.
Sistan and Baluchestan, the second largest province in Iran on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, records around 1,200 cases and 20 deaths per day, roughly equivalent to the number recorded for Pakistan as a whole , a country of more than 220 million.
To counter the deterioration of the situation, a ban on driving to and from 266 cities classified as “red” and “orange” has been imposed and a vehicle traffic restriction is in force in all cities from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. morning.
In the capital, Tehran, which has more than 12 million inhabitants during the day when commuters also arrive from neighboring areas, 70% of workers are expected to work remotely from Saturday. Essential workers will be physically functioning at half their capacity.
In his speech, Rouhani said last month’s polls – the presidential vote on June 18 and especially the municipal and village elections that followed it – had an effect on the growing number of cases. The outgoing president, who will succeed next month to Ibrahim Raisi, also cited summer travel as another factor.
Despite growing concerns, nationwide university entrance exams involving more than 1.3 million students began on Wednesday and lasted until Saturday.
Slow vaccine deployment
Fears over the new wave come as Iran’s vaccination campaign continues to fall behind schedule.
The health ministry said on Friday that nearly 4.5 million people had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is equivalent to about five percent of the total population.
The vaccines administered so far have come from Russia, China, India, Cuba and COVAX, an international program designed to boost vaccine distribution in low-income countries.
But repeated delays in importing vaccines have resulted in several-week interruptions in immunization efforts.
Many videos have circulated on social networks showing queues of several hours and elderly and vulnerable people crammed into vaccination centers that leave no room for physical distancing.
Rouhani also acknowledged the problem on Saturday, but vowed the situation would improve in the coming weeks with the expected arrival of more vaccines.
But with the US sanctions causing problems with transferring money for the purchase of vaccines, in addition to hitting the Iranian economy, the country mainly relies on its locally developed products.
Two local vaccines have received emergency use authorizations while several more are undergoing various stages of human trials and are expected to be administered to the masses in the coming months.
Meanwhile, the head of Setad, the organization led by Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei in charge of developing COV Iran Barekat, the first locally developed vaccine, said 2.7 million doses had been produced and 400,000 vaccines. administered at the Ministry of Health.
Mohammad Mokhber also said that 50 million doses will be manufactured by the end of September.
Authorities have said they expect to vaccinate most of the population by the end of the current Iranian calendar year, in March 2022.