Iran Faces COVID Surge in Southwest, Receives Second Vaccine Batch

DUBAI, Feb 12 (Reuters) Iran declared 10 southwestern communities as high-risk COVID-19 “red” zones as a consignment of 100,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine arrived on Friday, Iranian media reported.

Iran launched a vaccination drive on Tuesday, two weeks after declaring there were no “red” cities left in the hardest-hit country in the Middle East. The inoculation focuses on hospital intensive care personnel as authorities await enough vaccines for the general population.

But Ahvaz, capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province and nine other cities and towns were declared “red” zones after a rise in cases and health authorities ordered non-essential businesses to close, the semi-official news agency ISNA said.

“Following a decrease in the observance of health precautions and the belief that the situation has returned to normal, the number of referrals to hospitals has increased,” Farhad Abolnejadian, head of the medical university in Ahvaz, was quoted by ISNA as saying. “Three hospitals in Ahvaz are at full capacity.”

State television said 100,000 of the 2 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine that Iran had ordered arrived on Friday and Russia may increase the order to 5 million shots and allow Iran to produce the vaccine locally.

Iran plans to vaccinate 1.3 million people by March 20.

Iran also expects to receive more than 4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s shot, despite a ban by its top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on importing U.S.- and British-made vaccines, which he said were unreliable and may be used to spread the infection.

Officials have refrained from referring to Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca’s British ties.

Iran has recorded 1.5 million cases and 58,809 deaths, with the death toll of 58 on Friday at its lowest for more than eight months, according to health ministry data.

The government’s official figures for Covid-related infections and deaths have been disputed by medical professionals and health experts in the country, who say the numbers are likely to be much higher.

Tehran launched human trials of the first of its three domestic vaccine candidates in December.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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