Coronavirus: Iran acts to buy, test vaccines as virus deaths dip to 3-month low

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Iran has reached an initial agreement to buy coronavirus vaccines from overseas and plans to test a domestically produced shot soon, state media reported on Thursday, as the daily number of deaths fell to a three-month low.

Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati said Iran had reached a preliminary deal to transfer money for vaccines and would pay around $244 million for initial imports of vaccines.

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Hemmati gave no more details. The Islamic Republic said recently that U.S. sanctions were preventing it from making payments to COVAX, a multi-agency group dedicated to assuring fair access to vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. Some 190 economies have signed up to the COVAX scheme.

Iran's Shifa Pharmed began registering volunteers this week for human trials of the country's first domestic COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Iranian media reported.

Shifa Pharmed is a subsidiary of a large conglomerate controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which was the subject of an award-winning Reuters study in 2013.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 152 people had died of COVID-19 in Iran in the past 24 hours, the lowest number since Sept. 18, taking total fatalities to 54,308 in the worst affected country in the Middle East.

The fall in deaths comes after more than a month of night-time traffic curfews and other restrictions in major cities. Police said 96,000 fines were issued nationwide on Wednesday for drivers breaking the curfew.

But officials have cautioned that the danger of a resurgence in infections looms large.

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