By Pouyan Khoshhal
February 15, 2021
After weeks of relatively low Covid-19 alert levels across Iran, nine cities, all in the southwest province of Khuzestan, were put on red alert. Health Minister Saeed Namaki said the more infectious UK variant has spread across the country and President Hassan Rouhani warned of a fourth wave of the virus. Meanwhile, Iran received 100,000 more doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine “ahead of schedule”.
The death of a 71-year-old woman in Tehran and a 48-year-old man in the city of Abyek in Qazvin province “has proved that the [mutated] virus has spread to almost everywhere in the country and we must expect to find this variant in any city, any village and any family,” Health Minister Saeed Namaki said. “Even without the mutated virus we were afraid of a new surge and now, unfortunately, things are happening.” Previously Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raeesi said less than 50 cases of infection with the UK variant had been identified in Iran.
Pointing out that a number of cities in Khuzestan have been put on red alert, President Rouhani said at the weekly meeting of the National Coronavirus Taskforce: “This is a warning for all of us. It means the beginning of moving toward a fourth wave. We all have to be vigilant to prevent this. The country’s points of entry, especially from countries with mutated viruses, should be controlled more carefully and the steps to test and quarantine passengers must be strictly observed.”
Rouhani also asked the media and airline offices outside Iran to remind travelers to Iran about the new coronavirus regulations. “Whether they like it or not, everybody must know that whoever enters this country must be tested and if they are infected they must be quarantined,” he said.
Iran Receives Second Shipment of Russian Vaccine
The second shipment of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine arrived at Tehran’s Khomeini International Airport on the morning of February 13. As in the case of the first shipment, contradictory statements were made about the number of doses. Kianoush Jahanpour, speaking for Iran’s Food and Drug Administration, said the second shipment will be used “to vaccinate 100,000 people,” while the media, including the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), reported that the shipment contained 100,000 doses, enough to vaccinate 50,000 people because each recipient of the vaccine must be inoculated twice.
There were also contradictory statements about the first shipment of the Russian vaccine that was delivered to Iran on February 4. Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, head of the Food and Drug Administration, said the shipment contained 20,000 doses, but Fars news agency, quoting “Health Ministry officials,” reported that it contained 500,000 doses. Eventually it turned out that 20,000 doses had been delivered to Iran – enough to vaccinate 10,000 people. The vaccination of frontline health workers started on February 9.
With the arrival of the second shipment, vaccination of the rest of the 34,000 frontline health workers, other medical staff across the country and then people over 65 and other high-risk groups is to start. According to Iranian officials the third shipment of the Russian vaccine is scheduled to arrive after February 19.
New Travel Restrictions
The ban on out-of-province vehicles entering the three hard-hit northern provinces of Mazandaran, Gilan and Golestan will remain in place for the coming week, according to Colonel Rasoul Ebrahimi, speaking for the National Highway Police, who said the decision was made by the Interior Ministry. Non-local vehicles are also banned from the pilgrimage cities of Qom and Mashhad and favorite vacation destinations including Isfahan, Shiraz and Bandar Abbas, and the islands of Qeshm and Kish.
Before this week, traffic curfew from 9pm to 3am was only enforced in cities on orange alert, but according to Colonel Ebrahimi this curfew will be enforced in all cities in the coming week and violators will be fined.