Tehran, Iran – Iranian authorities have been forced to impose new nationwide restrictions after the lack of control over travel during the Persian New Year holidays last month led to an explosive increase in COVID-19 cases.
Authorities reported 19,666 cases across the country on Saturday, with the figure only second behind the highest single-day figure of 22,478 cases recorded a day earlier.
Iran has reported more than two million cases since the start of the pandemic, including 64,232 deaths, of which 193 were reported in the past 24 hours.
Starting Saturday, all areas of Iran will be subject to varying degrees of restrictions based on how they have been ranked on a color scale indicating the severity of outbreaks.
Iran’s coronavirus map looks like a sea of red as more than 250 cities, including all 32 provincial centers, are now rated “red,” indicating the highest level of severity.
In these regions, only essential services can continue while educational activities, meals in restaurants, cinemas, shopping malls and various retailers will have to close.
It will also be prohibited to travel to these areas using personal vehicles, while up to 50 percent of staff will be allowed inside offices.
A curfew is in place across the country for private vehicles from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.
However, a state television report on the streets of Tehran showed traffic jams and people crowded into public transport on their way to work on Saturday.
“They say it’s closed but everything is open,” a citizen told the state television reporter in front of a crowded bus.
Last week, Iran announced that the country was facing a fourth wave of infections that would be the largest to date.
The announcement came weeks after tens of millions of people were allowed to travel across the country and visit family and friends in person during a two-week holiday for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, celebrated on March 20.
During a televised address at a session of the National Anti-Coronavirus Working Group on Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani said the main reason for the fourth wave was the large-scale entry of the COVID-19 variant found. for the first time to the UK via the country’s western borders with Iraq.
Iranian health officials now estimate that more than half of all reported cases in Iran are of the British variant.
The president said the massive increase in pre-Nowruz shopping, in-person Nowruz day visits and weddings over the past two months were the other big reasons for the surge. Nowruz’s trips “which were made without following protocols” also contributed to the numbers, he added.
Rohani said that on average, only 56% of people are now following health guidelines.
“If more than 90% of people are on protocols, we won’t have a new wave. Our health care workers are tired. Our society is tired, ”he said.
Iran has imported more than 1.7 million doses of coronavirus vaccine from Russia, China, India and via COVAX, a global vaccination initiative.
Three locally made candidates are also being tested in humans and five more are in the pipeline.
But so far, less than 1 percent of the country’s population, which numbers more than 82 million people, has been vaccinated.