More than a week has passed since Iranian health officials declared a “fifth wave” of coronavirus infections was under way in the country. In seven days, the number of Iranian cities on “red alert” for high levels of transmission has jumped from 120 to 169. On Thursday, July 15, the officially-recorded number of coronavirus fatalities in a 24-hour period passed 200 again – a figure experts surmise is likely to be well shy of the real total.
By now, many Iranians have lost hope that they will receive even a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine in their own country. At the same time, the hot summer has reduced compliance with health protocols such as mask-wearing in some provinces to below 40 percent.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), more than 26 percent of Iranians now believe that they will “never” be vaccinated against Covid-19. A further 19 percent think they have a chance of receiving a Covid-19 vaccine in 2022, while just 14 percent believe they could be vaccinated by the end of this summer.
Why the pessimism? “Yesterday, a list was published about promises made by government officials during the last year regarding vaccine imports and production,” a doctor in Iran told IranWire. “This list provides a good answer as to why people have lost hope.
“For a year now, various officials, from the health minister to provincial coronavirus taskforces, have issued all kinds of promises – but practically nothing has happened. When 26 percent of people who qualify for vaccination say their turn will never come, it’s exactly what these officials want. They have lowered expectations through their repeated, constant and unfulfilled promises.”
Officials of the Islamic Republic have failed to even implement the vaccination program they drew up for themselves. “It’s ugly that an official like Mr. Namaki [Health Minister Saeed Namaki] can make promises and then, when he does not fulfill them, behave as though it is us that owe him something,” the doctor said.
“I believe these empty promises are the main reason people have lost hope. They see other countries in the world and in the region are conducting their vaccination programs in an orderly manner. How can one read this news and not lose faith?
“We are now in a fifth wave. The situation in the hospitals, particularly in Tehran, attests to this. Both we [doctors] and the nurses are under enormous pressure. The National Coronavirus Taskforce says the new surge is the result of a failure to observe health protocols. What it doesn’t say is that people have failed to observe the guidelines because the vaccination process has been so slow.”
There are now 169 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. But countless Iranians are traveling for summer vacations nonetheless.
For 10 months, the river Zayanderud in central Iran had been running dry. But authorities recently opened a dam so that the water will again flow for 10 days dry through the picturesque city of Isfahan, a perennial tourist destination. Reports received by IranWire indicate travelers are already flocking to the town and milling around, largely unmasked and with few guidelines enforced.
Compliance with health protocols in dozens of other Iranian cities has also reportedly dropped to a bare minimum, at a time when the Delta variant is running rampant in much of Iran.
Foreign Ministry: Do Not Travel to Armenia
Having given up on receiving a Covid-19 vaccine close to home, Iranians with money to burn have been flocking to neighboring countries to get their first jab, especially Armenia.
This has naturally troubled the regime from a PR perspective. On July 15, the Foreign Ministry advised Iranians not to travel to Armenia because vaccination centers in that country could only accept a limited number of people and they might have to wait a long time. Pictures of long queues on the Armenian border – and even waiting travelers sleeping in cardboard boxes – have surfaced on social media over the past fortnight. This gruelling wait for a Covid-19 vaccine, though, is still nothing compared to what Iranians now believe they can expect if they remain patient at home.
On Tuesday, July 6, the Armenian ambassador to Tehran announced that from July 15, travelers who stayed for fewer than 10 days in Armenia would not receive a free shot. Up until that point most Iranian “vaccine tourists” had been booking four-day excursions to Iran’s immediate neighbor.
Vaccination: Slower than Slow
Not only has the Ministry of Health failed to deliver on its promises regarding the importation of foreign-made vaccines, but millions of doses of Iran’s own CovIran-Barekat vaccine, being produced by the Executive Headquarters of Imam's Directive (“Setad”), have yet to materialize.
On Wednesday, July 14, the Iranian Red Crescent Society reported that it had so far imported more than one million doses of vaccine. In total, Iran has imported around 11 million doses and used 7,727,534 of them.
In the meantime, Setad had previously claimed it would deliver 50 million doses of CovIran-Barekat to the Health Ministry by the late September. From late July, the conglomerate said it could produce they plan to produce 1.2 million of doses per month. According to official sources, 700,000 doses have been produced so far.
People of Sistan and Baluchistan: Domestic Vaccine Guinea Pigs?
The deprived province of Sistan and Baluchistan has been badly-hit by the delta variant. As a result, inoculations with CovIran-Barekat began in this province on Monday, July 12 despite no official data having yet been published about its efficacy.
“The situation in Sistan and Baluchistan has become more critical than before,” Reyhan, a resident of the provincial capital of Zahedan, told IranWire. “These days they don’t publish any reports about us because Tehran and other provinces have also been put on red alert.
“Here, though, you can’t even find masks or disinfectants in some cities. Many of our cities do not have a hospital and where they do, there are often no infectious disease specialists or ventilators.”
Reyhan is deeply sceptical about the use of CovIran-Barekat on the local population. “People are not willing to be injected because they don’t trust this vaccine. It seems they are using our people as test subjects. They know very well that some people in Sistan and Baluchistan have no ID cards [to present to health workers at vaccination sites]… This drive is completely useless.”
Shia Mourning Season Gets Under Way
The very high temperatures in Iran have made mask-wearing very difficult for most people. Low compliance and gatherings will be partly responsible for the recent uptick in cases – but so too will be the fact that the traditional season of Shia mourning ceremonies is set to go ahead unhindered.
The National Coronavirus Taskforce has agreed to allow mass mourning rituals to go ahead across Iran during the Islamic lunar month of Muharram, which this year starts on August 10. It seems health officials are determined not to heed the lessons they should have learned last year. In autumn 2020, Iran’s horrific third wave of infections was turbo-charged by gatherings for Muharram and Ashura, after which even the officially-recorded number of deaths came close to 500.
Official Coronavirus Statistics
According to the official statistics announced daily by the Health Ministry, recorded deaths due to Covid-19 rose almost every day in the week ending July 15, as did new infections and hospitalizations. A total of 1,195 patients lost their lives to Covid-19 last week and July 15, with 201 deaths, had the highest official number of fatalities for the week.
At the week’s end, 4,064 Covid-19 patients were being treated in ICUs. According to the Iranian government, of now 2,2019,693 Iranians, in a population of more than 82 million, have received both doses of vaccine.
At the week’s end the Health Ministry announced that 169 Iranian cities were on red alert, an increase of 49 in a week. Another166 were rated orange and 113 were yellow. No city in Iran is currently on blue alert.