As vaccination efforts continue to be delayed, fears of another major resurgence of coronavirus infections are growing.
Tehran, Iran – Iran is preparing for another wave of COVID-19 infections as the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads to the southern and southeastern provinces of the country.
Expressing alarm on Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani noted that adherence to health protocols such as the use of masks and physical distance had declined.
“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 working group.
Official figures show that the pandemic has finally killed nearly 85,000 people in Iran, the worst country in the Middle East. At least 3.23 million cases have been registered in the country of more than 83 million people.
According to the latest update from the health ministry, 92 counties in about half of the country’s 32 provinces, including Tehran, are now classified as “red” on a color-coded scale that denotes the severity of focolai.
Sistan and Baluchestan, Iran’s second largest provinces bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, record about 1,200 cases and 20 deaths a day, roughly equivalent to the number recorded for all of Pakistan, a country more of 220 million.
To counter the deteriorating situation, a travel ban has been imposed by and for 266 cities classified as “red” and “orange” and a restriction on the movement of vehicles is in force in all cities from 10pm to 3pm.
In the capital, Tehran, which has a population of more than 12 million during the day when travelers also enter from nearby areas, 70 percent of workers are expected to work remotely by Saturday. Essential workers will operate physically at half capacity.
In his speech, Rouhani said last month’s polls – the June 18 presidential vote and in particular the city and country elections that followed it – had influenced the growing number of cases. The outgoing president, who is due to succeed next month Ibrahim Raisi, Also citing summer travel as another factor.
Despite growing concerns, university entrance exams across the country involving more than 1.3 million students began Wednesday and lasted through Saturday.
Slow spread of vaccines
Fears over the new wave come as Iran’s vaccination test continues to lag.
The health ministry said that as of Friday, nearly 4.5 million people had received at least one dose of a vaccine against COVID-19, which equates to about five percent of the total population.
The shots administered so far have come from Russia, China, India, Cuba and COVAX, an international scheme designed to encourage the distribution of vaccines to low-income nations.
But repeated delays in the importation of jabs have resulted in week-long gaps in vaccination efforts.
Many videos have been circulating on social media depicting long hours of queues and elderly and vulnerable people crowded into vaccination centers leaving no room for physical distance.
Rouhani also acknowledged the issue Saturday, but promised that the situation will improve in the coming weeks with the expected arrival of more vaccines.
But with U.S. sanctions causing money transfer problems for the purchase of vaccines, in addition to hurting Iran’s economy, the country relies primarily on its locally developed products.
Two local vaccines have received emergency use authorizations while several others are undergoing various stages of human testing and are expected to be administered to the masses in the coming months.
Meanwhile, Setad chief, the organization under supreme leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei in charge of developing COVIran Barekat, the first vaccine developed locally, said 2.7 million doses had been produced and 400,000 jabs had been delivered to the ministry of health.
Mohammad Mokhber also said that 50 million doses will be manufactured by the end of September.
Authorities said they expected to inoculate most of the population by the end of the current Iranian year of March 2022.