Iran braces for surge in new COVID-19 cases triggered by New Year celebrations

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Iran said on Tuesday a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic had taken hold in western and central areas of the country, triggered by widespread travel and celebrations during the current Iranian New Year holidays.

“A fourth coronavirus wave has definitely begun in many parts of the west and center of the country and is advancing towards the east,” Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state television.

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New cases jumped by more than 900 to 10,255 in the past 24 hours, a more-than-three-month high, Lari said. She blamed the surge above all on millions of Iranians travelling or holding family gatherings during Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Iran, the pandemic’s epicenter in the Middle East, has reported a total of almost 1.9 million cases and 62,569 deaths.

Authorities have imposed night-time driving curfews in dozens of cities and towns to try to discourage gatherings.

But many Iranians did not stay home during the two-week New Year period that began on March 20, even though authorities banned travel to and from dozens of “red” (high risk) and “orange” (medium-high risk) cities and towns in efforts to limit a further spread of the virus.

Iran says it has received more than 400,000 of 2 million Sputnik V vaccines on order from Russia, and is awaiting delivery of 4.2 million AstraZeneca shots. Tehran says it has also received 250,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and part of an order of 500,000 doses of India’s COVAXIN.

Iran, which has a population of 83 million, had hoped to receive over 2 million vaccines by March 20 to vaccinate mainly healthcare workers.

The Islamic Republic is developing at least four local vaccine candidates, one in cooperation with Cuba, which are expected to reach production in a few months.

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