The repeated advice of the Islamic Republic’s health officials in the past two weeks has been “Do not travel”. The ban on traveling to and from cities on red or orange alert has been unequivocally stated by the National Coronavirus Taskforce. But these cities number just 50, a considerable number of which are within Khuzestan, and vast swathes of the country are untouched by the guidance ahead of Iranian new year.
Health Minister Saeed Namaki has implored people – in the name of a Shia saint, no less – to avoid holiday travel. “We beg you not to travel,” he said. “The health minister must beg, must plead, must kiss hands and feet, to get anywhere.”
The new Iranian calendar year starts on March 21. During the 13-day holiday called Nowruz, Iranians traditionally visit each other and go traveling, which portends trouble during a pandemic and was one of the chief causes of the surge in Covid-19 cases observed last spring.
Dr. Alireza Zali, director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, warned that there would be an “ambush” of new infections when these vacationers returned to Tehran. He added that officials were making contradictory statements about the holidays, and said it would be “the same thing we witnessed after reopening schools last fall and this winter. Not much time remains until the end of the year, but it is still not yet clear how Nowruz travels are going to be handled.”
According to the latest report, a final decision on travel restrictions will be communicated by March 15: long after most people will have already made up their minds about whether or not to travel.
Phase 3 of Clinical Trials of the Cuban Vaccine in Iran
More than a month ago, Hamid Baeidinejad, the Iranian ambassador to the United Kingdom, claimed that countries typically buy their vaccines from a single source and few countries like Iran acquire it through multiple sources. Regardless of the veracity of this, as of now, Iran has imported four different kinds of coronavirus vaccine that still amount to fewer than a million doses.
On the evening of Wednesday, March 10, the first shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine made by India’s Bharat Biotech company, containing 150,000 doses, arrived in Tehran. This is the fifth shipment of vaccine that Iran has received to date. Earlier 320,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine in three shipments, and 250,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine donated by the Chinese government in one shipment, had been delivered to Iran.
According to Kianoush Jahanpour, spokesman for Iran’s Food and Drug Administration, an emergency permit for the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine has been issued by his agency and inoculations can start immediately. Frontline medical staff and health workers, some elderly groups and veterans aged over 50 still have priority.
Jahanpour also reported that 100,000 does of the Cuban Soberana (Spanish for "Sovereign") 2 vaccine were to arrive in Iran late on Thursday, March 11. He said these doses would be used to conduct phase 3 of the vaccine’s clinical trials, a joint project between Iran’s Pasteur Institute and the Cuban Finlay Institute, and if the trials are successful then mass production of the vaccine in both countries would start.
Official Coronavirus Statistics
The number of Covid-19 tests in Iran has been increased to more than 100,000 per day, reported the Ministry of Health. According to this report, the number of positive tests returned are continuously more than 8,000 per day. In the past week, the highest number of positive results at 8,606 was recorded on Wednesday, March 10. The lowest number was recorded on Sunday, at 8,010.
The total Covid-19 death toll in Iran reached 61,016 on March 11, announced Health Ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, who also reported that 3,818 Covid-19 patients are currently being treated in ICUs.
As of now, she said, a total of 1,723,470 Iranians have been infected with coronavirus. However, considering that only a little over 11.5 million Covid-19 tests have been conducted across a population of more than 83 million, this is likely to be far short of the real figure.
In most provinces hit with the coronavirus variant the number of infections continue to rise and ICU wards are at capacity in Ahvaz, capital of Khuzestan, the hardest-hit province in Iran, with 11 cities on red alert and eight cities on orange alert. Dr. Farhad Soltani, vice president of Ahvaz Jondishapur University of Medical Sciences, said that he hoped the situation would improve in the next two weeks as the recently-introduced restrictions begin to yield results.
Since the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, at no time have restrictions have not enforced effectively, not has compliance with health protocols been adequate. In fact, Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced on March 10 that infections were still rising in Khuzestan and warned that the province could expect a “more horrible storm” than at any point last year.
Coronavirus Variant and Alert Levels
The coronavirus variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom has spread across Iran and is responsible for some of the fatalities now being recorded, but the exact number of infections and deaths caused by this variant is not known, because not every province is equipped to distinguish it from the original virus in lab tests. For the most part, samples must be sent to Pasteur Institute in Tehran for identification, an inconvenient and laborious process.
Dr. Alireza Zali, director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, has meanwhile called for the alert levels of Iranian cities to be adjusted by taking into account the level of spread, because the variant is much more contagious and acts faster. He said that each person infected with the original strain of the virus will, on average, infect 1.2 individuals, while this rises to 2.3 in people infected with the new variant.
According to the latest figures announced by Dr. Lari, 11 Iranian cities are currently in a red state of alert, while 32 cities are in an orange state of alert, 251 cities are on yellow alert and 154 are rated blue. All cities on red alert are in Khuzestan.
Some People Cannot Afford Masks
In Tehran, at least 20,000 people are trying to make a living as street vendors because of the harsh economic situation and some cannot even afford to buy masks, said Dr. Zali. He added that economic problems might lead people to “disobedience”, adding: “In general, there are a large number of holes in the protective cover for downtrodden and vulnerable segments of society.”
Officials of the Islamic Republic have repeatedly claimed that Iran is now self-sufficient in producing masks and it has even started exporting them.
110 Nurses Have Died from Covid-19
Tehran Nursing Organization announced that since the coronavirus outbreak 110 nurses across Iran have lost their lives to Covid-19 and 90,000 have been infected with coronavirus. Tehran, with 26 fatalities and 16,000 infections, and Ahvaz have had the highest number of fatalities among nurses.