TEHRAN — Iran announced Sunday it was reimposing coronavirus restrictions on major cities, as the spread of the highly contagious delta variant spurs fears of another surge in the nation.
After over a year battling the virus outbreak, Iran ordered the closures of non-essential businesses in 275 cities, including the capital of Tehran.
The shutdown of all public parks, restaurants, dessert shops, beauty salons, malls and bookstores applies to the country’s “red” and “orange” zones, or municipalities ranked as having an elevated risk of COVID-19.
The government said it was also imposing a travel ban between cities with high infection rates.
Iran’s new restrictions are designed to slow the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant first detected in India, which on Saturday President Hassan Rouhani warned was driving a potential “fifth wave” of infections in the country. Reports of new cases have risen steadily in recent weeks, nearly doubling from mid-June to early July.
According to the latest update by the health ministry, 92 counties in roughly half of the country’s 32 provinces, including Tehran, are now classified as “red” on a colour-coded scale denoting the severity of outbreaks.
Sistan and Baluchestan, Iran’s second-largest province bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, is registering about 1,200 cases and 20 deaths a day, which roughly equals numbers registered for the whole of Pakistan, a country of more than 220 million.
In the capital, Tehran, which has a population of more than 12 million during the day when commuters also enter from nearby areas, 70 percent of workers are slated to work remotely from Saturday. Essential workers will operate physically at half capacity.
The country has reported a total of 3.2 million infections and 84,627 deaths.
The spike comes as Iran’s vaccine rollout lags, with less than 2% of the population of 84 million fully vaccinated, according to online scientific publication Our World in Data. Iran says it has administered some 6.3 million doses so far. Those shots have mainly come from abroad, including from COVAX, an international initiative meant to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. Iran also has imported Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccines and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
With foreign vaccines still in short supply, the country has accelerated efforts to develop its own shots. Last month, authorities granted emergency use authorization to the domestically produced COVIran Barekat shot. Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei received the homemade vaccine and encouraged the public to follow suit.
Rouhani promised Saturday that
the situation would improve in the coming weeks with the expected arrival of more vaccines.
But with the United States sanctions causing money-transfer issues for vaccine purchasing, in addition to hitting Iran’s economy, the country is mostly banking on its locally developed products.
Two local vaccines have received emergency use authorizations while several others are undergoing various stages of human trials and are expected to be administered to the masses in the coming months.
The head of Setad, the organization under in charge of developing COVIran Barekat, said 2.7 million doses have been produced and 400,000 jabs have been delivered to the health ministry.
Muhammad Mokhber also said 50 million doses will be manufactured by the end of September.
Authorities have said they expect to inoculate most of the population by the end of the current Iranian calendar year in March 2022.