The sixth wave of coronavirus in Iran appears to have reached its peak a week earlier than predicted and is now subsiding. The official daily number of fatalities, which stood at 241 on February 27, fell to 172 at the end of the week.
Persian new year, or Nowruz, arrives on March 21. The Nowruz holidays are traditionally a time when Iranians travel and visit each other. In a bid to curb new infections, the National Coronavirus Taskforce has issued new guidelines requiring Iranians to have a third booster jab of Covid-19 vaccine before they travel.
In addition, the Taskforce ordered that private vehicles used for holiday trips be registered via a new online systems, and their owners must have received the booster shot as well, on pain of a million-toman (US $235) fine. No sooner was the platform launched than reports surfaced that it was not working.
Separately, business owners and operators have been told they have to have received a third jab to keep operating over Nowruz. On doing so, they will supposedly receive a QR code that should be affixed to the premises somewhere visible to customers. Not doing so was described by the authorities as a “punishable offence”, but the punishment has yet to be specified.
Unsurprisingly, vaccine-hesitant and other Iranians were less than happy and took to social media to complain, using a hashtag that roughly translated to “Corona Merchants”. “We shall bypass the government’s sanctions the same way that we bypassed the American sanctions,” one person tweeted.
Some Persian-language news sites also signalled their disquiet at the measure. “As of now,” wrote the channel Medicine and Health, “no country has made three doses of vaccine compulsory, and in just a few has providing services to individuals been made conditional on two doses.
“It is clear not on what basis the National Coronavirus Taskforce has arrived at its new decisions. What is the meaning of treating tens of millions of Iranians who have... been vaccinated twice in the same way as the few who have not even been vaccinated even once, and imposing the same fines on both groups?”
Will the Nowruz Protocols Do Any Good?
Dr. Mahan Ghafari, a PhD researcher of virus evolution at the University of Oxford, told IranWire that in his view, the recent decision was probably justifiable given the low number of Iranians – fewer than 24 million, in a population of more than 80 million – who have received the booster jab so far.
“Scientific evidence shows that the booster shot can be very effective in reducing the number of infections, hospitalization and fatalities,” he said, “so this decision does have a scientific justification,” says Dr. Ghafari.
However the more than two years since coronavirus first came to Iran, numerous measures introduced by the National Coronavirus Taskforce to contain the spread – including night-time traffic curfews, and fines for gatherings – made little difference as they went either ignored or unenforced. Requiring only vehicle owners, but not passengers, to get a third jab could well be another of them.
In the past year alone, Iran has gone through three successive waves of Covid-19 that at one point even saw the limited, official daily count of deaths pass 700. Delays in importing and manufacturing vaccines have compounded the issue.
Furthermore, Dr. Ghafari said, “If we’ve learned one lesson from this pandemic, it’s that there is no guarantee that a person who has been infected once will not get infected again. And because vaccination has not been extensive enough [in Iran], we are not safe from the outbreak of new variants.” Nowruz travels could well lead to another surge in infections, he said, and “we must be aware that new variants could cause the pandemic to last longer.”
Official Coronavirus Statistics
According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 1,487 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending March 3. With 241 deaths, February 27 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.
At the week’s end, 4,098 Covid-19 patients in Iran were being treated in ICUs. According to the Health Ministry, at the time of writing the total number of vaccine doses injected had reached 142,015,103.
There are currently 184 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 187 are rated orange and 76 are yellow. Currently only one city in Iran is on “blue” alert.