TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran began a 10-day blockade on Saturday amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, state television reported, a worrying trend after the country battled the worst outbreak in the Middle East for more than a year.
Iran’s working group on coronavirus, which is accused of imposing virus restrictions, has ordered most shops closed, with offices limited to one-third in cities declared “red zones”.
The capital Tehran 250 250 other cities in the country have been declared red zones. They have the highest levels of virus positivity and the strictest restrictions. More than 85% of the country now has a red or orange infection status.
A severe wave of infections follows a two-week public holiday, Novruz, the Persian New Year. Millions of people traveled to the shores of the Caspian Sea to other popular holiday destinations, packing markets to buy new clothes, buying toys, and gathering at home, not counting government health guidelines.
The new block also affects all parks, restaurants, bakeries, beauty salons, shopping malls and bookstores.
Apparently, the spread of the virus was not expected to stop, as the spread of vaccines in Iran was lagging behind. According to the World Health Organization, only about 200,000 doses have been administered in a country of 84 million.
COVAX, a partnership to distribute the vaccine fairly worldwide, shipped its first shipment from the Netherlands to Iran on Monday, containing 700,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The health ministry said more than 19,600 new infections had been reported on Saturday, including 193 deaths. More than 64,200 people have been confirmed dead since the outbreak began.
Hadi Minai, owner of a store in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, says poor governance is the cause of the new wave.
“No one can say that the blockade should not have been lifted. “But better governance would be done during the Nowruz holiday, when everything was closed, not now, when everyone wants to work and make money,” he said.
“Locks are only somewhat effective, but how long do people have to pay the price,” said Alireza Had Adiryan, a market rug seller. He said the government should do more to provide vaccines.
Authorities have done little to enforce the blockade, initially resisting a nationwide blockade to save an economy that has already been devastated by tough US sanctions. One year after the epidemic, the public’s fatigue and insensitivity have deepened.
Motorcyclist Saeed Valizadeh, who earns his living by transporting passengers from the market in light parcels, says that if the government pays low-income citizens, they can afford to stay at home.
“Those who are rich have no problem staying at home, but we can not,” he said.
President Hassan Rouhani said several factors had played a role in the escalation, but that the main culprit was the United Kingdom, which had entered Iraq from Iran.
Earlier this year, the country launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign by providing limited doses of Sputnik V vaccine to medical workers.
At the same time, in neighboring Iraq, authorities have introduced new measures to promote vaccination among civilians, including air travel restrictions.
The Ministry of Health said it had asked airlines not to sell tickets to passengers until they had proven they had been vaccinated. Employees of hospitals, restaurants, shopping malls and shops will also need a vaccination card.
The measures were taken against the backdrop of low demand for vaccines in Iraq, many of which remain suspicious of government vaccination plans.
Associated Press TV producer Mohammad Nasiri contributed to this report from Tehran, and Samya Kulab from Istanbul.