As vaccination efforts continue to lag, fears of another major resurgence of coronavirus infections grow.
Tehran, Iran – Iran prepares for another wave of COVID-19 infections as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreads in the country’s southern and southeastern provinces.
President Hassan Rouhani raised the alarm on Saturday, noting that compliance with health protocols such as the use of masks and physical distancing had waned.
“If we are not careful enough, there is concern that the country will face a fifth wave,” he said during a television session of the anti-coronavirus task force.
Official figures show that the pandemic in Iran, the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, has killed nearly 85,000 people so far. At least 3.23 million cases have been recorded in the country with more than 83 million people.
According to the latest update from the Ministry of Health, 92 counties in roughly half of the country’s 32 provinces, including Tehran, are now rated “red” on a color-coded scale that indicates the severity of the outbreaks.
Sistan and Baluchestan, Iran’s second largest province on the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, has around 1,200 cases and 20 deaths every day, which is roughly the same as the number recorded for the whole of Pakistan, a country with more than 220 million inhabitants.
In order to counteract the worsening situation, a travel ban to and from 266 cities with the classification “red” and “orange” has been imposed and vehicle traffic is restricted from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. in all cities.
In the capital Tehran, which has more than 12 million inhabitants during the day, even if commuters come from the surrounding areas, 70 percent of workers will work remotely from Saturday. Necessary workers will physically work at half capacity.
In his address, Rouhani said last month’s polls – the presidential election on June 18, and especially the city and village elections that followed – had an impact on the rising number of cases. The outgoing president, who is to be replaced by Ebrahim Raisi next month, mentioned summer travel as another factor.
Despite growing concerns, statewide college entrance exams began Wednesday with more than 1.3 million students and lasted through Saturday.
Slow vaccine rollout
Fears about the new wave come as Iran’s vaccination campaign continues to lag behind.
The Ministry of Health said by Friday, nearly 4.5 million people had received at least one dose of a vaccine for COVID-19, which is about five percent of the total population.
The vaccinations given so far come from Russia, China, India, Cuba and COVAX, an international program designed to promote the distribution of vaccines to low-income countries.
But repeated delays in importing vaccines have resulted in weeks of gaps in the vaccination effort.
There were plenty of videos circulating on social media showing long queues and elderly and vulnerable people in vaccination centers who leave no room for physical distancing.
Rouhani also admitted the problem on Saturday but promised the situation would improve in the coming weeks with the expected arrival of more vaccines.
But as US sanctions create money transfer problems with vaccine purchases and hit the Iranian economy, the country mainly relies on its locally developed products.
Two local vaccines have received emergency approvals while several others are in various stages of human studies and are expected to be widely administered in the coming months.
Meanwhile, the chief of Setad, the organization under Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei that is responsible for developing COVIran Barekat, the first locally developed vaccine, said 2.7 million doses were produced and 400,000 vaccinations were given to the Ministry of Health were delivered.
Mohammad Mokhber also said that 50 million cans will be made by the end of September.
The authorities have announced that they will vaccinate most of the population by the end of the current Iranian calendar year in March 2022.