TEHRAN -- Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that halting COVID-19 is an “urgent” priority and called for more vaccine imports and production, after record deaths and infections.
Iran’s COVID cases and fatalities have surged in recent weeks, in what officials have said is a “fifth wave” caused by the highly infectious Delta variant.
“Today, the issue of the coronavirus disease is the country’s primary and urgent issue,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a televised address focused on the health issue.
The Leader said the record number of casualties was “truly painful,” and demanded greater efforts to boost vaccine “imports and domestic production”.
It has recorded more than 95,600 deaths and over 4.2 million infections. In the past 24 hours, 42,541 people tested positive for the coronavirus -- the country’s highest daily caseload since the start of the pandemic.
Choked by U.S. sanctions that have made it difficult to transfer money abroad, Iran has said it is struggling to import vaccines for its 83 million-strong population.
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.
More than 13.8 million people have been given a first vaccine dose, but only 3.7 million have received the necessary two jabs, the ministry said Wednesday.
Ayatollah Khamenei in late June received the first dose of the Barekat jab, developed by a state-owned foundation known as Setad.
“Part of the problem is lack of observance of health protocols by the people,” Ayatollah Khamenei said on Wednesday, calling on the public to alleviate the “truly great concern” of overburdened health centers by being more careful.
The Leader said foreign providers of COVID vaccines initially reneged on their promises and refused sales to Iran, but changed course only after the country successfully managed to domestically produce own vaccines.
“Fortunately, the production of vaccines within the country paved the path for the import of foreign shots as well, whereas before that, foreign suppliers would renege on their promises despite having received the payments,” he said.
The Leader called on the people to display the same level of heightened sensitivity to safety precautions to curb the disease as they did when the pandemic first began “so that their lives and those of others would not be endangered.”
Frontline health workers, who have been working under immense pressure since the pandemic began, need a slight break from the strain
, which will be provided if people strictly follow safety protocols for a couple of months, the Leader said.
Until then, he said, vaccines will also have been made fully available to everyone, and even though the pandemic will not have gone away, the crisis and the fatalities will have subsided.
The Leader also pointed to the arrival of the lunar month of Muharram, which coincides with the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS), the third Shia imam, advising the people to meticulously and thoroughly observe COVID safety guidelines while attending mourning rituals and ceremonies.
Ayatollah Khamenei hailed an initiative by President Ebrahim Raeisi to set a one-week deadline for proposals on a comprehensive national response to the current peak of the outbreak.
“At the designated time, the response to the issue should be carefully weighed, and any necessary measures adopted and enforced accordingly,” the Leader said.
Ayatollah Khamenei also demanded that authorities confront those disrupting the distribution network of the coronvirus drugs.
“We hear that the coronavirus drug is not available in pharmacies or hospitals, or is scarce or difficult to obtain, but is available in the open market at many times the price. The fundamental problem in the distribution network must be definitely addressed and prevented.”