Tehran, Iran – Authorities in Iran have been forced to impose fresh nationwide restrictions after lack of control over travels during the Persian new year holidays last month led to an explosive rise in COVID-19 cases.
On Saturday, authorities reported 19,666 cases across the country, with the figure only second behind the highest single-day figure of 22,478 cases registered a day earlier.
Iran has reported more than two million cases since the start of the pandemic, including 64,232 deaths, 193 of those being reported in the past 24 hours.
Starting Saturday, all regions across Iran will undergo various degrees of restrictions based on how they have been classified under a colour-coded scale denoting the severity of outbreaks.
Iran’s coronavirus map looks like a sea of red as more than 250 cities, including all 32 province centres, are now classified “red”, indicating the highest level of severity.
In these regions, only essential services can continue while educational activities, dine-in at restaurants, cinemas, shopping centres, and a variety of retail vendors will have to shut down.
Travelling to those regions using personal vehicles will also be prohibited while up to 50 percent of staff will be allowed inside offices.
A curfew is in place across the country for private vehicles from 10pm to 3am.
However, a report by state television from the streets of Tehran showed traffic jams and people crammed in public transport on their way to work on Saturday.
“They say it’s closed but everything is open,” a citizen told the state TV reporter in front of a packed bus.
Last week, Iran announced the country is facing a fourth wave of infections which would be the biggest so far.
The announcement came weeks after tens of millions of people were allowed to travel across the country and make in-person visits to family and friends during two-week holidays for Nowruz, the Iranian new year, that was celebrated on March 20.
On Saturday, in a televised address during a session of the national anti-coronavirus task force, President Hassan Rouhani said the main reason for the fourth wave is the large-scale entry of the COVID-19 variant first found in the United Kingdom through the country’s western borders with Iraq.
Iranian health officials now estimate that more than half of all cases reported across Iran are of the UK variant.
The president said massively increased shopping activity prior to Nowruz, in-person visits on the day of Nowruz, and weddings in the past two months were the other big reasons behind the rise. Nowruz travels “that were made without following protocols” also contributed to the numbers, he added.
Rouhani said on average only 56 percent of people are now following health guidelines.
“If more than 90 percent of people follow protocols, then we won’t have a new wave. Our healthcare workers are tired. Our society is tired,” he said.
Iran has imported more than 1.7 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from Russia, China, India, and through COVAX, a global vaccine initiative.
Three locally manufactured candidates are also undergoing human trials and five more are in the works.
But less than 1 percent of the country’s population of more than 82 million people has been vaccinated so far.