Alireza Raeesi, the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s spokesman, has backed down and apologized to the clergy and Friday imams of Qom for criticizing their apparent failure to comply with health protocols at religious ceremonies. The apology came after Raeesi faced several days of sustained attacks and even calls for him to stand trial over the comments.

In a recorded message released on social media, Raeesi said his statements earlier in the week had been “misinterpreted” and he had meant no disrespect. At a meeting on January 16, in the presence of President Hassan Rouhani, Raeesi had drawn attention a picture of a ceremony in Qom and castigated its organizers for not enforcing social distancing and masks.

“Those who organize these ceremonies carelessly,” he had said, “will undoubtedly be responsible for the deaths of our people during the next peak of the epidemic, and must be punished.”

 

Iran Hopes to Import Vaccines

In a televised interview on January 20, health minister Saeed Namaki said he hoped the country would begin coronavirus vaccinations before February 10. But he emphasized that the ministry would not start until it could bring the safest and most reliable vaccine into Iran.

A second Iranian coronavirus vaccine developed by the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and given the green light for clinical trials to start next week, Namaki said. He added that the first vaccine, CovIran, developed by the Barekat Foundation, had “successfully passed the later phases of testing.”

Iran and Cuba are also still working on the production of a coronavirus vaccine. The project has entered Phase II of clinical trials in Cuba under the auspices of Cuba’s Finlay Institute and Iran’s Pasteur Institute. It has been claimed that, so far, no side effects have been observed.

President Rouhani has also announced that the first shipment of vaccines approved by the Health Ministry will arrive in Iran in coming weeks. Earlier it was announced that Iran purchased 16.8 million doses of vaccines from COVAX, an initiative by the World Health Organization to provide more equitable access to coronavirus vaccines. Namaki, however, announced that since the distribution of this vaccine will only start in February the vaccination of those who have priority would begin using other vaccines for now. He did not provide any further specifics on this.

Meanwhile, Hasan Ghodsipour, an official of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution’s secretariat, confirmed again Iran can in principle now buy coronavirus vaccines as the US Treasury has allowed a Swiss bank to provide Iran with $244 million to pay for them.

 

Provinces Under Pressure

The situation in Mazandaran shows no sign of improvement, and with the hospitalization of 232 new Covid-19 patients in the past 24 hours, the number of hospitalizations in the province has reached 1,296, of whom 285 are in intensive care units. All 10 Iranian cities in a red state of alert and 12 cities of the 23 on orange alert are located in Mazandaran.

With the death of three other confirmed Covid-19 patients in Qazvin the official number of coronavirus fatalities in the province reached 1,261. In the past 24 hours 66 new cases were identified in Qazvin and 26 of them were hospitalized, bringing the total number of hospitalizations in the province to 186.

In Isfahan the rate of coronavirus tests that return positive has fallen to 15 percent from around 65 percent two months ago, according to Arash Najimi, spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, who said that if positive test results fall below five percent “we can claim that we are near the end of the pandemic.”

The number of hospitalized coronavirus patients in the province has remained stable at around 400 for the past 10 days even though approximately 70 new Covid-19 patients are hospitalized every day. Currently 80 to 90 patients are being treated in intensive care units. Since early January each day fewer than 10 people have lost their lives to Covid-19, Najimi said, but he warned that reopenings are not going as planned and if people continue to behave as though the situation is normal there will be another coronavirus surge. “Considering that we still have no vaccines, coronavirus numbers might rise again at any moment,” he said. “Until the vaccine arrives we must take precautions and follow health guidelines.”

In the past 24 hours no new coronavirus fatalities were recorded in Alborz and the death toll in the province remains at 2,639. During the same 24 hours 37 new patients suffering from Covid-19 symptoms were hospitalized in Alborz and currently 283 suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases are hospitalized in the province.

Despite the stable number of hospitalizations in Alborz, however, Alireza Soleimani, spokesman for the Alborz Coronavirus Taskforce, reported that in the past two days more patients with coronavirus symptoms have visited hospitals in the province and it is feared that the number of hospitalizations will rise in coming days.

 

Iran’s Latest Coronavirus Statistics

In her daily briefing for January 20, Health Ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the past 24 hours:

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