The National Coronavirus Taskforce has sought to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Iran through one week of restrictions and a travel ban. But the latter only applies to private vehicles moving between provinces, meaning that would-be travellers have inevitably been mobbing bus terminals instead.
Meanwhile, Iran’s vaccination campaign in Iran is still progressing too slowly. According to official statistics, a little over 4.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered and just 532,929 people – less than one percent of the population – have received the second shot. Long waits for the second jab have prompted some people to protest at health centers, demanding to know what is causing the delay.
In many provinces the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations and fatalities has been on the decline. But in southern and eastern regions, there have been more new cases of infection with the variant first detected in India (now called “Delta” by the World Health Organization) and in South Africa (dubbed “Beta”). As a result, the number of Iranian cities on red alert has doubled in two weeks.
Inter-Province Travel Ban
Friday, June 4 and Saturday, June 5 are national holidays in the Islamic Republic that respectively mark the death of Ayatollah Khomeini and the 1963 demonstrations by his supporters in protest against his arrest under the Shah. To prevent the spread of coronavirus, this year an inter-state travel ban was declared from Wednesday, June 2, to Monday, June 7.
The National Coronavirus Taskforce has also announced that unauthorized vehicles that enter cities on red alert would be fined one million tomans (US $230). The fine for entering cities on orange or yellow alert is 500,000 tomans ($115). Of course, cars with local license plates can enter their own cities from anywhere and do not have to pay a fine.
Because of the restrictions, news websites report that travellers in Tehran have instead crowded into bus terminals, while taxis are charging people two or three times the usual fare to get them to the terminals. Bus companies have also hiked ticket prices. For a ticket from Tehran to Isfahan, passengers are currently being charged 600,000 tomans ($138) instead of the usual 230,000 ($53).
Strangely, the National Coronavirus Taskforce has not banned inter-city travel on public transport, despite this seeming to be the obvious way forward.
Vaccinations: Blame the Suppliers
On June 2, the eighth shipment of Russian Sputnik V vaccine was delivered to the Iranian embassy’s representative in Moscow to be airlifted to Iran. According to the latest figures, as of now Iran has imported 5.6 million doses of vaccine.
Some time ago, President Rouhani vowed that Iran would have imported nine million doses by late May. This promise was not fulfilled. Officials in the Islamic Republic have routinely blamed countries that supply the vaccines for allegedly not keeping their word.
On Monday, May 31, Sadegh Tabrizi, director of Health Ministry’s Office for Health Affairs, repeated the same claim, and promised that by late June people would begin to receive the domestically-produced CovIran-Barekat vaccine, and the new vaccine Iran’s Pasteur Institute is jointly developing with Cuba, instead.
Three months ago President Rouhani also ordered the government to “facilitate” the participation of the private sector in importing coronavirus vaccines. Last week, this directive was implemented at long last. On May 31, Naser Riahi, president of the Iranian Drug Importers Union, announced that the private sector was going to import one million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine and three million doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm. He added that the contract to buy AstraZeneca had already been signed.
As of now, 4,568,317 doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered in Iran. Some 4,035,388 people have received their first shot but only 532,929 have had both doses. Delays in the administration of second doses has worried a lot of people, with reports of confrontations at health centers over the delay.
On June 3, the Health Ministry’s public relations office announced that those who qualify for a second dose would be notified on the ministry’s website and through text messages. The announcement asked people to stop going to medical centers to ask about the second dose and assured them that a few weeks’ delay would not affect the efficacy of the vaccine.
Vaccine’s “Magnetic” Side Effects?
Rumors have sprouted on Iranian social media that Covid-19 vaccines can make recipients magnetic at the site of injection. The claim was made in a series of viral videos claiming to show magnets being attracted to the arms of alleged jab recipients. Several clips presented this as proof that people were being covertly microchipped.
This claim has since found its way into Persian-language posts on social media as well. Finally, on May 3, Dr. Atefeh Abedini, chairwoman of the National Covid-19 Scientific Committee, rejected the claims outright and insisted that coronavirus vaccines do not produce such side effects. She added that sometimes metal objects do stick to a person’s skin because the skin is damp or sticky, but it has nothing to do with vaccines and the idea had no scientific basis.
Increase in Cases of Measles
According to latest official statistics, 24 cases of measles were identified across Iran as of May 28 whereas last year only three cases of this disease were recorded in the country. The reason, according to health experts, that the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the process of vaccination against other contagious diseases.
Dr. Mohsen Zahraei, head of Health Ministry’s Office for Preventable Diseases, attributed the increase in measles cases to the fact that health workers are overwhelmed with fighting against Covid-19 pandemic and the anti-vaxxers have been turning people against any kind of vaccination. He pleaded with people to make appointments to inoculate their children against measles.
In the last few months, provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan, Razavi Khorasan, Hormozgan and Alborz have witnessed increases in number of measles cases.
The “Serious” Spread of Coronavirus Variant in Western and Eastern Iran
Most Iranian provinces have seen a drop in coronavirus-related hospitalizations and fatalities in recent weeks after the fourth wave subsided. But SARS-CoV-2 variants have kept both Sistan and Baluchistan and Hormozgan provinces on a red state of alert.
The National Coronavirus Taskforce has announced that the Delta variant first detected in India now poses a serious threat to eastern and southern Iran. Alireza Raeesi, the taskforce’s spokesman, said that besides these two provinces, Bushehr, Kerman and even the western province of Kermanshah are also being affected this variant. The Beta variant first detected in South Africa is also lurking in these provinces.
Official Coronavirus Statistics
According to official statistics announced daily by the health ministry, a total of 1,274 patients lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending June 3. With 217 officially-recorded deaths, May 31 had the highest number of known fatalities in the week.
At the week’s end, 3,924 Covid-19 patients were being treated in ICUs while Iran's official death toll from Covid-19 since the pandemic began drew closer to 90,000: likely still far shy of the real total.
At the week’s end the health ministry announced that currently 16 Iranian cities are on red alert, 201 are orange and 231 are yellow. No city in Iran is currently on blue alert.