Iran reimposes virus restrictions as delta variant spreads

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran on Sunday announced it was reimposing coronavirus restrictions in major cities as the spread of the highly contagious delta variant raises fears of another devastating wave in the country.

After more than a year of battling the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East, Iran has ordered the shutdown of non-essential businesses in 275 cities, including the capital Tehran.

The closure of all public parks, restaurants, desserts, beauty salons, shopping malls and bookstores applies to “red” and “orange” areas of the country, or to municipalities classified as having a high risk of COVID-19.

The government has said it is 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, as President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday warned was at the origin of a potential “fifth wave” of infections in the country. Reports of new cases have steadily increased in recent weeks, almost doubling from mid-June to early July.

The country has reported a total of 3.2 million infections and 84,627 deaths – the highest toll in the region.

The spike comes as the vaccine rollout in Iran lags behind, with less than 2% of the 84 million population fully vaccinated, according to the online scientific publication Our World in Data. Iran says it has administered some 6.3 million doses so far. These injections come mainly from abroad, notably from COVAX, an international initiative to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. Iran has also imported Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccines and the Russian vaccine Sputnik V.

With foreign vaccines still insufficient, the country has stepped up efforts to develop its own vaccines. Authorities last month granted an emergency use permit for the COVIran Barekat shot produced in the country, without releasing data on its safety or effectiveness. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who previously warned against importing American and British vaccines amid deep-rooted mistrust of the West, received the homemade vaccine on state television and encouraged the public to follow suit.

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