Almost a year after the coronavirus outbreak was formally declared in Iran, a key challenge now facing health officials is the spread of the more infectious variant detected in the United Kingdom, which affects younger age groups more severely and has a higher recorded mortality rate.
Kianoush Jahanpour, head of the Health Ministry’s public relations office, stated on February 16 that 17 cases of infection by this mutated form of the virus have so far been confirmed in Iran through testing. Seven of them were in Qazvin, where “special measures” have reportedly been taken to identify and contain the spread of the virus.
“I do not believe that there are only these few cases in Qazvin,” Health Minister Saeed Namaki had said a day earlier. He added that health officials in Qazvin and the neighboring provinces of Zanjan, Alborz and Tehran must coordinate so that the region is constantly being monitored and effecting measures can be taken to “extinguish” a potential peak.
In recent days Health Ministry officials have reported that at least four people have died from Covid-19 contracted from this variant in the cities of Hashtgerd, Qazvin, Kashan and Tehran. Seven cases have also been officially confirmed in Tehran province but no further information about these patients is available.
Karim Hemmati, head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, announced that his organization is taking the necessary actions to import the Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine, produced by the state enterprise Sinopharm. The first shipment of this vaccine is due to arrive in Iran within a month. He added that the Red Crescent Society is not involved in importing the Russian Sputnik V or other foreign vaccines and is only involved in procuring the Chinese-made product.
The last time Hemmati spoke publicly about coronavirus vaccines was about two months ago, when he said his organization was going to import 150,000 of the Pfizer vaccine donated by philanthropists. But after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei banned the importation of American and British-made vaccines to Iran, he went silent on the subject.
Iran’s Latest Coronavirus Statistics
In her daily briefing for February 16, Health Ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the past 24 hours:
According to the latest figures announced by the Ministry of Health, nine Iranian cities are currently in a red state of alert, while 39 cities are in an orange state of alert, 228 cities are on yellow alert and 172 are rated blue.
All nine cities on red alert are located in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, which borders Iraq. Now it seems that the UK-identified coronavirus variant has infiltrated this province as well. Dr. Ghodratollah Shakerinejad, president of Behbahan University of Medical Sciences, said the alert level in Behbahan, another major city in Khuzestan, might also have to be raised to red in the coming week. He also confirmed that cases of the new variant have been detected in Khuzestan, but provided no further details.
On Monday, February 15, a record number of more than 1,120 patients with Covid-19 symptoms had attended hospitals operated by Ahvaz Jondishapur University of Medical Sciences. The university’s president Dr. Farhad Abolnejadian reported that and a number of its hospitals are now at capacity.
As of now, 227 health workers and medical staff working in ICUs in Khuzestan have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, reported Dr. Mohammad Alavi, the head of Khuzestan Health Center. He added that one of the main obstacles to vaccination is some cities in the province not having any freezers capable of storing the vaccine at the -20 degree temperatures required to preserve it.
Health officials have long stressed that family get-togethers as well as wedding and mourning ceremonies have played a major role in exacerbating the spread of coronavirus in Iran. Many reception halls have been forced to remain closed for months now, and some are facing prosecution by the judiciary. Nevertheless, some Iranians are still paying no attention to the restrictions.
In Hormozgan, three bridegrooms in the port city of Bandar Khamir have been sentenced to one year in prison each for holding their wedding ceremonies in defiance of coronavirus restrictions, reported Dr. Fatemeh Noroozian, spokeswoman for Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences. As of now, she added, 15 villages in the province have either been quarantined or subjected to traffic restrictions for hosting wedding and mourning ceremonies and thus violating health protocols.
In the city of Quchan in Razavi Khorasan, 160 teachers and students have now tested positive for Covid-19, reported Farshid Fathi-Moghadam, head of Quchan Health Network. As of now, he said, 3,660 people in the city have been infected with coronavirus and 230 are known to have died.
The situation in Mazandaran has been critical for several weeks now. On February 16, the number of inpatients dropped to under 1,000, but health officials warn that the situation is still fragile – particularly with the threat of the new variant and the approach of Iranian New Year on March 21, a date when people typically go out on shopping sprees and visit one another. Seven cities in the province are currently on orange alert but Health Minister Saeed Namaki has warned their alert level might be changed to red in the coming days.
In the past 24 hours another 137 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized across Mazandaran, bringing the total number of inpatients in the province to 964. Of these, 202 are being treated in ICUs in hospitals supervised by Mazandaran and Babol Universities of Medical Sciences.
With the hospitalization of 37 new Covid-19 patients in Bushehr, the total number of people receiving hospital treatment for Covid-19 in this province has now reached 96, of whom 16 are in ICUs, reported Dr. Saeed Kashmiri, president of Bushehr University of Medical Sciences. With the death of two more Covid-19 patients, the official death toll in the province since the outbreak has now reached 870. Like other health officials across Iran, Dr. Kashmiri again pleaded with people to wear masks, avoid gatherings as much as possible and keep observing health protocols.