Iranian President warns of possible new wave of COVID cases

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday said Iran could face another wave of coronavirus infections, as health officials warned of the spread of the delta plus variant infectious virus.

Rouhani, speaking at a meeting of the national coronavirus task force, urged people to postpone their summer trips and gatherings to prevent the “spread of the virus, especially its Indian variant.” Iran has reported cases of the delta variant in a number of towns and villages.

“There are concerns that we are heading in the direction of a fifth wave,” he said. “In the southern provinces, we should apply more treatment since the delta variant has infiltrated there. Rouhani’s website reported his comments.

Iran remains among the countries hardest hit by the virus in the world and the hardest hit in the Middle East.

The capital Tehran and more than 90 other towns and villages have been declared red zones, forcing up to 70% of office staff to work from home. It also requires the closure of public places like cinemas, gymnasiums and restaurants.

A recent spike in cases has pushed some hospitals to the limit in the southeast of Pakistan’s neighboring Sistan and Balochistan province, which already suffered from poor health facilities.

Fueled by tribal ceremonies and campaign rallies ahead of the June municipal elections, the province of more than 2.7 million people recorded a daily death toll of around 15.

Provincial Governor Ahmad Ali Mouhebati said on Thursday that some patients have to travel nearly 100 kilometers (60 miles) to reach a health facility. “Now ten cities in the province are running out of hospitals,” he said.

Mouhebati predicted an increase in new cases due to ceremonies and travel related to the Muslim Eid holidays later this month.

Authorities have promised to prepare field hospitals and more medical and emergency equipment and have also closed three border points with Pakistan in the province.

Iranian officials said on Saturday that the death toll from COVID-19 had risen by 111 in the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to 84,627 since the start of the pandemic last year.

Authorities said 8,341 new confirmed cases were recorded during the same period, bringing the total to more than 3.24 million. Reports say 3,207 of the patients are in serious condition and 2.91 million have recovered so far.

In April, Iran experienced its fourth wave of the disease, with authorities reporting the highest number of new coronavirus cases – more than 25,000 a day. Its daily death toll has climbed to around 400, below the grim record of 486 it reached in November.

Meanwhile, Iran suffers from a slow vaccine rollout despite producing three vaccines. These include the domestic COVIran Barekat and the Cuban-made Soberana, which is produced in Iran under the name Pasteur vaccine. There is also the domestic production of Russia’s Sputnik V, which Iran also continues to import.

So far, less than 7 million doses of the vaccine, mostly imported, have been administered across the country, including nearly 2 million who have received a second dose. Only 300,000 of the 7 million were made in Iran.

The government has promised to start mass vaccinations in September. Local research for vaccines in Iran has gained momentum even as officials allege heavy U.S. sanctions will hamper efforts.

Iran participates in COVAX, an international initiative designed to distribute vaccines to countries regardless of their wealth. But international banks and financial institutions are reluctant to deal with Iran for fear of US sanctions. Under COVAX rules, Iran could order enough doses to immunize half of its 80 million and more people.

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