Middle East

Iran president warns of possible new wave of COVID cases


TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that Iran may face another wave of coronavirus infections, as health officials warned of the spread of the more infectious delta variant of the virus.

Rouhani, speaking at a national coronavirus task force meeting, urged people to postpone their summer travels and gatherings to prevent the “spread of the virus, particularly its Indian variant.” Iran has reported cases of the delta variant in a number of cities and towns.

“There are concerns that we go into the direction of a fifth wave,” he said. “In southern provinces we should apply more treatment since the delta variant has infiltrated there.” Rouhani’s website reported his remarks.

Iran remains among the countries hardest hit by the virus in the world and the worst hit in the Middle East.

The capital Tehran and more than 90 other cities and towns have been declared red zones that require up to 70% of office staff to work from their homes. It also requires the closure of public places like movie theaters, gyms and restaurants.

A recent spike in cases has pushed some hospitals to the limit in southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province, which neighbors Pakistan, It already suffered from poor health care facilities.

Fueled by tribal ceremonies and campaign gatherings ahead of June municipal elections, the 2.7 million-plus province has seen a daily death toll of about 15.

On Thursday, provincial Gov. Ahmad Ali Mouhebati said some patients need to travel nearly 100 kilometers (60 miles) to reach a health care facility. “Now, ten towns in the province lack hospitals,” he said.

Mouhebati predicted an increase in new cases because of ceremonies and travels related to the Muslim Eid holidays later this month.

Authorities have promised to prepare field hospitals and more medical and emergency equipment and closed three border points with Pakistan in the province, too.

Iranian officials said Saturday the death toll from COVID-19 rose by 111 over the previous 24 hours, putting the country’s total at 84,627 since the pandemic broke out last year.

Authorities said 8,341 new confirmed cases were registered over the same period, bringing the total to more than 3.24 million. Reports said 3,207 of the patients are in serious condition, and that 2.91 million have recovered so far.

In April, Iran experienced its fourth wave of the disease, with officials reporting the highest new coronavirus case numbers — more than 25,000 a day. Its daily death toll surged to around 400, below the grim record of 486 it reached in November.

Meanwhile, Iran suffers from a slow vaccine rollout despite the production of three vaccines. These include the domestic COVIran Barekat and Cuban-made Soberana, which is produced in Iran as the Pasteur vaccine. There is also the domestic production of Russia’s Sputnik V, which Iran also continues to import.

So far, less than 7 million doses of vaccine, mainly imported ones, have been administered across the country, including nearly 2 million who have had a second dose. Only 300,000 of the 7 million were Iran-made.

The government has promised to begin mass vaccinations in September. Iran’s local vaccine research has picked up steam even as officials allege that heavy American sanctions will hamper the efforts.

Iran participates in COVAX, an international initiative designed to distribute vaccines to countries regardless of their wealth. But international banks and financial institutions are reluctant to deal with Iran for fear of American penalties. Under COVAX rules, Iran could order enough doses to vaccinate half of its 80 million plus people.

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