TEHRAN (Dispatches) — Iran’s daily coronavirus death toll climbed over 400 for the first time in months on Sunday, as the country battles a post-holiday infection surge.
Iranian health authorities recorded 405 fatalities from the virus, pushing the total death toll to 66,732. Officials increasingly have warned about the impact of trends seen nationwide during the Persian New Year, or Nowruz. The two-week holiday last month brought increased travel, relaxed restrictions and large gatherings without precautions.
After COVID-19 cases broke record after record earlier this month, the Health Ministry reported 21,644 infections on Sunday, bringing the total count over 2.2 million. Hospitals are rapidly filling across the country, particularly in the capital. Authorities reported 130 deaths in Tehran alone, according to Mohsen Hashemi, head of the Tehran municipal council. The single-day death toll nationwide reached a peak of over 480 last November.
The coronavirus pandemic has hammered Iran for months, but the government has signaled it can’t sustain the punishing lockdowns seen in the U.S. and Europe without risking economic impact. Iran’s economy has struggled under harsh U.S. sanctions, reimposed when former President Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 landmark nuclear deal that granted the country sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Still, Iran has restricted business operations in more than 250 cities for a period of 10 days, shuttering restaurants, beauty salons, malls and bookstores, confectionaries and public parks.
They have the highest virus positivity rates and the most severe restrictions in place. Over 85% of the country now has either a red or orange infection status.
The government’s inoculation rollout has gotten off to a slow start, but the country is producing and a range of domestically made vaccines.
Nevertheless, President Hassan Rouhani stressed the importance of importing foreign-made vaccines in a speech last week.
"We cannot wait for the domestic vaccine to reach mass production,” he said. "We need to expand vaccination this spring by importing vaccines in appropriate ways.”
COVAX, an international collaboration to deliver the vaccine equitably across the world, delivered its first shipment to Iran this month from the Netherlands containing 700,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses.
Tehran says it has received more than 400,000 of 2 million Sputnik V vaccines on order from Russia, and that it is awaiting delivery of 4.2 million AstraZeneca shots.
It has also received 250,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and part of an order of 500,000 doses of India’s COVAXIN.
With a population of 83 million, Iran had hoped to secure over 2 million vaccines by March 20 to vaccinate mainly healthcare workers. It is developing at least four local vaccine candidates, one in cooperation with Cuba, which are expected to reach production in a few months.