TEHRAN -- Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, in a letter to President Hassan Rouhani on Monday, called for any necessary measure to be taken to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The call followed a letter by Health Minister Saeed Namaki to Ayatollah Khamenei, requesting a two-week shutdown of the country.
Namaki had said that health workers are under heavy strain amid a sharp rise in new COVID-19 cases, urging the need for mobilizing all of the country’s capacities to seriously fight the pandemic.
He had also called for possible use of armed forces and the police to help implement health protocols.
“The pressure is so high that I’m worried even this plan won’t be enough, unless we reduce the exponential load of illnesses through quick preventive measures and boosting adherence to health protocols,” he wrote.
The minister said the fifth wave of coronavirus infections, this time dominated by the virulent Delta variant, could become even more “catastrophic” and “irreversible” if nothing is done because even if the country does not run out of hospital beds, it will run out of workers.
“Even though they are vaccinated, my co-workers are all becoming sick due to long bouts of sleeplessness and stress,” he said, also warning that the country’s health system could collapse.
The heads of 65 medical universities and faculties across the country also called for a lockdown in a letter to Rouhani last week.
In his letter to President Rouhani, the Leader asked a two-week shutdown of the country as proposed by the health minister to be examined at the coronavirus task force and an appropriate measure to be taken.
A copy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter was also sent to President-elect Ebrahim Raisi who is scheduled to take an oath of office on Thursday.
The Health Ministry on Monday reported more than 37,000 new coronavirus infections, the country’s single-day record so far in the pandemic.
National TV said health workers registered 37,189 new COVID-19 cases since Sunday — surpassing the previous daily record of 34,951 infections reported on Tuesday. Also, there were 411 deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll in the pandemic to 91,407.
The new surge has been fueled by the contagious delta variant, and Iranian authorities say less than 40% of the population follows measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing. Iranian health officials have regularly warned that hospitals in the capital, Tehran, and other major cities are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Authorities have avoided imposing heavy-handed rules. Iran, which has suffered the worst virus outbreak in the region, is reeling from tough U.S. sanctions.
Iran has introduced numerous temporary lockdowns and shutdowns across the country since the pandemic began, but most have been loosely enforced.
The government put capital Tehran and neighboring Alborz under complete lockdown for six days in late July, but it was deemed mostly pointless as hardly any businesses closed down and travel restrictions were flouted amid low enforcement of protocols.
The situation has gotten significantly worse since then, but health officials have warned that the fifth wave of infections has yet to reach its peak.
Alireza Raisi, the spokesman of the national anti-coronavirus task force, said on Saturday that 29 of Iran’s 31 provinces are now in the throes of the Delta variant and hospital beds are quickly being filled.
Hundreds of cities across the country are now classified “red” in a color-coded scale denoting the severity of outbreaks.
Iran’s vaccine rollout has accelerated in the past two weeks as several more million doses have been imported after months of lag that officials said was due to U.S. sanctions and missed deadlines by other countries.
So far, jabs have been imported from China, Russia, India, Cuba, and COVAX, the global vaccine effort.
But still, according to the health ministry, only about 10 million people have received at least one dose of a vaccine in a country of more than 83 million.
People aged above 55 can currently sign up at the health ministry website to be inoculated.
Officials say more than half a million doses of COVIran Barekat, the country’s first locally developed vaccine, have also been administered across the country so far.
Local vaccines are expected to be rolled out in larger numbers during the next few months to fill the gaps left by lackluster imports.
Iran has several other vaccine candidates in the works, including one jab developed by an organization under the defense ministry, one under the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and one being developed by the private sector.