TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran’s health ministry said the country’s coronavirus fatalities broke the 60,000 mark on Sunday, as it battles the outbreak of the illness amid inhuman U.S. sanctions.
Several officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, warned of a Covid-19 "fourth wave” with cases rising in certain areas of the country.
"Sadly in the past 24 hours, 93 people lost their lives to Covid-19, and total deaths from this disease reached 60,073,” health ministry spokesman Sima Sadat Lari said in a televised address.
Iran has registered a total of 1,631,169 infections, according to the ministry.
Coronavirus task force spokesman Alireza Raisi on Friday said that Iran is "very concerned” about the more contagious British variant of the virus, which has already "circulated in the country”.
"We have identified 112 people infected with the British variant in the country, eight of whom have died,” he said, according to the health ministry.
He noted that the variant was seen in many provinces including the capital Tehran, and the virus’ new focal point in the southwest, Khuzestan.
The number of daily infections has hit 8,000 in recent days, a level still much lower than the record high of 14,051 infections registered on November 27.
Daily deaths dropped below 100 in early January, the lowest level since June.
Tehran started a national vaccination campaign on Feb 9 using Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, with the first target groups being health workers, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions.
Iran is also working on locally developed vaccine projects, with the clinical trials of the second home-grown vaccine starting on Sunday.
The country received 250,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by the government of China.
"This act and those similar to it by the government and nation of China are admirable and will of course remain in the historical memory of the Iranian nation,” Kianoush Jahanpour, spokesman of the Food and Drug Administration, said.
After Russia’s Sputnik V, the first doses of which were delivered earlier this month and used to inoculate front-line healthcare workers, the Sinopharm vaccine is the second foreign vaccine imported to Iran.
It is also to be used as part of the country’s national vaccination program, which from Wednesday moved to vulnerable groups after front-line healthcare workers.
According to Raisi, the government hopes to begin inoculating an estimated 1.3 million vulnerable Iranians before the end of the current Iranian calendar year on March 20, and finish their vaccination one month later.
He also said on Saturday that Iran will know soon when exactly it will take delivery of 4.2 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as part of COVAX, a global vaccine initiative by the World Health Organization.
Iranian officials have also hinted at the possibility of importing a vaccine from India’s Bharat Biotech.
But to rein in the deadly virus in a country of almost 85 million people, Iranian officials are mainly banking on locally manufactured vaccines. The country’s second vaccine candidate, Razi COV-Pars, began human trials on Sunday.
In a ceremony aired live on state television, Agriculture Minister Kazem Khavazi issued the order for the first volunteer to receive the first dose.
As part of the vaccine’s first phase of human trials, 133 volunteers will receive two doses via injection and one dose via inhalation, officials have said.
The mRNA vaccine has been developed by the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute, Iran’s oldest vaccine institute with a history of almost 100 years, and is said to be able to stop COVID-19 transmissions while having few side effects.
Iran’s first vaccine candidate, COVIran Barekat, finished its first phase of human trials earlier this month and the team behind it said preliminary results indicated it is 90 percent effective while being capable of fully countering the COVID-19 variant first found in the United Kingdom.
Officials have said Iran is building "the largest vaccine production site in the Middle East” and expects to produce 10 million doses of the Barekat vaccine per month by early spring.