Iran’s Covid deaths soar amid danger from religious gatherings

Iran’s daily Covid deaths have risen alarmingly again, as many fear that upcoming religious ceremonies could lead to another crisis similar to August 2021.

The Department of Health said on Friday that 8,000 new Covid cases had been identified in the last 24-hour reporting period and 54 patients had died. This brought the total number of reported cases in Iran since the start of the pandemic to more than 7.3 million and the death toll to almost 142,000. There have been numerous reports in Iran since the early days of the pandemic that there were far more Covid deaths than officially recorded.

The new wave of Covid infections over the past few weeks has severely affected nearly 150 towns and villages which have been labeled as Covid “red” and “orange” zones.

Abbas Shirozhan, spokesman for Iran’s Covid task force, said Friday that holding religious mourning ceremonies during the Islamic months of Muharram and Safar (August 10 to October 8) would be allowed without any restrictions in open spaces while that they can also take place indoors if the place has adequate ventilation and the rules of social distancing are respected.

There were videos of hundreds of men beating their chests to the sound of religious mourning songs in unrestricted religious gatherings in various cities in August 2021 but the authorities did nothing to stop the ceremonies. Coupled with a low vaccination rate, this led to a new wave of infections soon after and the daily death toll quickly rose to around 700.

Despite the spread of the Omicron variant in February, the daily death toll hovered around 230 due to greater vaccination after August 2021. Since early March, the number of infections and deaths has dropped significantly, deaths dailies often remaining in the single digits.

According to the latest official figuresnearly 65 million Iranians received at least one dose, 58 million two doses but only 30 million received a third vaccine injection.

In January 2021, the country’s anti-Western leader Ali Khamenei banned American and British-made vaccines when the only ones available at the time were three vaccines made by those countries.

Iranians on social media have repeatedly criticized him for the vaccine ban, which increased infections and deaths last summer with the Delta surge. It has also been suggested that the authorities downplay the threat of Covid in 2020 so as not to deter voting in the February legislative elections this year.

Following the ban, the government allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to regime insiders to develop local vaccines, a project that largely failed.

Iran’s national vaccination plan did not make significant progress until the presidency was handed over to Khamenei’s favored candidate, the diehard Ebrahim Raisi in August last year. Raisi has repeatedly bragged about the success of his government in mass vaccination and the management of Covid.

But critics say power centers are controlled by extremists hampered former President Hassan Rouhani’s vaccine purchases and once he was gone, they mainly allowed Chinese vaccines that had already been ordered into the country.

Iranian Covid vaccine factories closed due to lack of demand, as many vaccinated with foreign vaccines refused to get local ones as boosters. The entire national vaccine production system has proven to be little more than wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and precious time to prevent tens of thousands of deaths in 2021.

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