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Warning of 5th COVID wave in Iran

July 3, 2021

President Hassan Rouhani thinks the highly infectious variant will spark a fresh surge in coronavirus infections. US sanctions are hampering Iran's vaccination drive as it develops several homegrown alternatives.

People in Tehran wearing facemasks in street
Just over 4.4 million people in the country of 83 million have received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccineImage: Ahmad Halabisaz/Xinhua News Agency/picture alliance

Iran is at risk of a fifth wave of COVID-19 as an outbreak of the highly infectious delta variant spreads through the country, President Hassan Rouhani warned on Saturday.

"There are concerns that the whole country may enter a fifth wave if enough care is not taken in following health protocols. Today, reports are that just 69% of the people are observing the precautions," the outgoing leader said in remarks broadcast on state television.

"The delta variant entered the country from the south and southeast, and we should have been careful to prevent its spread in the country. All health regulations... must be fully observed, otherwise we will have a problem," Rouhani said.

Iran, which as reported 84,627 deaths from COVID-19, is the Middle East's hardest-hit country. The capital Tehran and 91 other cities and towns have been classified as high-risk "red" zones.

Health authorities are ordering the closure of non-essential businesses in "red" areas as well as internal travel restrictions. Tehran is limiting work attendance to 30% of employees.

US sanctions impede vaccination drive

Medicine is exempt from US sanctions imposed on Iran in 2018 after former president Donald Trump aborted the 2015 nuclear deal.

The Iranian government, however, said Washington's sanctions have obstructed efforts to purchase foreign vaccines, resulting in delays in deliveries and a slow vaccination drive.

Rouhani said Iran has received only a small portion of the 16.8 million vaccines it has ordered from the COVAX global vaccine campaign.

US sanctions have prevented some foreign banks from processing financial transactions with Iran, disrupting efforts to import medicines and humanitarian supplies, Tehran says.

Iran works to develop domestic vaccines

Just over 4.4 million people in the country of 83 million have received a first dose, while only 1.7 million have received the necessary two jabs, according to the health ministry.

The country has approved emergency use of two locally produced vaccines, including one made together with Cuba.

Iran is developing five more homegrown vaccines and is cooperating with Russia on producing the Sputnik V vaccine.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei received the first dose of one of the homegrown vaccines on June 25.

In January, Khamenei had said he was banning the purchase of coronavirus vaccines made by US and UK companies.

"The import of American and British vaccines to the country is banned," he said in a televised speech. "If their Pfizer manufacturer can produce a vaccine, then why do they want to give it to us?" he said. "They should use it themselves so they don’t experience so many fatalities. Same with the UK."

Khamenei said western drug companies tested vaccines on other countries "to see if they work or not."

Iran and America: Is a new nuclear deal possible?

mvb/mm (AFP, Reuters)