TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran is preparing to test a homegrown Covid-19 vaccine in people, Health Minister Saeed Namaki said on Tuesday, after a surge in post-lockdown cases of the virus sent fatalities to a record high.
"Most animal tests have been passed and we will work on clinical trials of the vaccine in humans in the very near future,” Saeed Namaki said at a pharmaceutical exhibition. Iranian scientists have been developing the vaccine for four months, he said.
Cases have swelled since the government eased lockdown restrictions in April, with a record 162 deaths reported on Monday. Laboratories around the world are engaged in fast-paced efforts to develop treatments and vaccines for the virus.
Iran’s coronavirus epidemic is still in its first wave, the government said Tuesday as it announced nearly 150 new deaths a day after reporting a record high daily toll.
Official figures have shown a rising trajectory in new confirmed cases since early May, when Iran hit a near two-month low in daily recorded infections. But officials have repeatedly denied the upward trend amounts to a second wave.
"The coronavirus is currently peaking in border provinces or cities which did not experience a peak in the first months of the outbreak,” Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said Tuesday. "Therefore, we’re still witnessing the first wave in the country,” she said.
Lari said Iran would only have a second wave if there was another rise in cases in provinces that "had a significant peak” when the first cases were declared.
She reported 147 new fatalities Tuesday, raising overall deaths to 10,817. She also raised the country’s COVID-19 caseload to 227,662, with 2,457 new infections in the past 24 hours.
Authorities have so far refrained from enforcing full lockdowns to stop the pandemic’s spread and the use of masks and protective equipment has been optional in most areas.
Iran closed schools, cancelled public events and banned movement between its 31 provinces in March, but the government gradually lifted restrictions from April to try to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.
The increasing virus caseload has seen some previously largely unscathed provinces classified as "red” -- the highest level on Iran’s color-coded risk scale -- with authorities allowed to reimpose restrictive measures if required.
They include Bushehr, Hormozgan, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, Khorasan Razavi, Kurdistan, and West and East Azerbaijan, all located along Iran’s borders.
Iran has announced that wearing masks will be made mandatory in covered public spaces as of next week. Authorities have for weeks been urging citizens to use protective equipment.
"Our attempts so far have been to avoid entering the second wave” of the outbreak, Government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference Tuesday.
"Considering the problems the coronavirus has created for the economy, we have no choice but to try to live healthily in co-existence with the virus every day,” he added.