TEHRAN — Iran, grappling with its most severe surge of the coronavirus to date, reported more new infections and deaths across the country on Sunday than any other single day since the pandemic began.
Health authorities logged over 39,600 new cases and 542 deaths from the virus. The fatality count shatters the previous record set during Iran’s deadliest coronavirus surge that gripped the country last November, signaling the current wave will likely only get worse. The new all-time highs push Iran’s total number of infections over 4.1 million and death toll over 94,000.
The crush of new cases, fueled by the fast-spreading delta variant, have overwhelmed hospitals with patients too numerous to handle. The country has never seen so many COVID-19 patients in critical condition, with 6,462 more severe cases reported Sunday.
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei last week ordered officials to discuss the possibility of a total national shutdown. The government has been loath to enforce such a lockdown, fearing the damage it would do to an economy reeling from years of American sanctions.
The former government’s sputtering vaccination campaign hasn’t helped matters.
The inoculation campaign launched in February has progressed more slowly than authorities had planned.
Choked by U.S. sanctions that have made it difficult to transfer money abroad, Iran says it is struggling to import vaccines for its population of 83 million.
More than 12.5 million people have been given a first vaccine does, but only 3.7 million have received the necessary two jabs, the health ministry said on Sunday.
In the face of U.S. sanctions that complicate banking transactions and deep-rooted suspicion of the West, Iran has vigorously promoted the local production of coronavirus vaccines, doling out the experimental COVIran Barekat vaccine to most healthcare workers. Iran’s government announced that its domestic vaccine provides 85% protection from the coronavirus.
The country’s newly inaugurated president, Ebrahim Raisi, publicly received his first dose of the COVIran Barekat shot on Sunday. He urged public health officials to speed up vaccinations before winter weather sets in.
Raisi said Saturday that a “plan to transform the way to confront the coronavirus” was to be reviewed next week.
He said on Sunday that accelerating the pace of vaccinations is one of his government’s priorities, according to the president’s official website.
Chairing a Covid taskforce meeting, he also vowed on Saturday to “support domestic vaccine production” while “not hesitating” to import jabs from abroad.
The authorities have approved the emergency use of two locally produced vaccines, with the only mass-produced one, COVIran Barekat, still in short supply.
The other vaccines used in Iran include Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s Sinopharm, India’s Bharat and AstraZeneca/Oxford, according to the health ministry.
The government has avoided imposing a full lockdown on the population, and instead resorted to piecemeal measures such as temporary travel bans and business closures.
Outgoing health minister Saeed Namaki has recently suggested a two-week shutdown to help contain the spread of the virus.
Covid infections have been surging since late June, in what officials have warned is a “fifth wave” caused by the highly infectious Delta variant.
Although the vaccination pace has been accelerating, the observation of health protocols has dropped significantly.