(Reuters) – Iran imposed a 10-day lockdown across most of the country on Saturday to curb the spread of a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, state media reported.
The lockdown affects 23 of the country’s 31 provinces, health ministry spokesman Alireza Raisi said. Businesses, schools, theatres and sports facilities have been forced to shut and gatherings are banned during the holy fasting month of Ramadan that begins on Wednesday.
Iran’s coronavirus cases have surpassed 2 million with a new daily average of over 20,000 infections over the past week, according to the health ministry. It has reported more than 64,000 fatalities.
“Unfortunately, today we have entered a fourth wave,” President Hassan Rouhani said in televised remarks. He blamed the surge foremost on the variant that first emerged in the UK which spread to Iran earlier this year from neighbouring Iraq.
Other factors included widespread travel, weddings, and celebrations during the Iranian New Year holidays that began on March 20, he said.
The UK variant is now predominant in the country, and 257 cities and towns are in red alert, Raisi said.
Iran has been the epicentre of the pandemic in the Middle East. In February, it closed several crossing points with Iraq in an effort to stem the spread of the UK variant.
The country’s vaccination drive has also been slow going.
Tehran says it has received more than 400,000 of 2 million Sputnik V vaccines on order from Russia, and that it is awaiting delivery of 4.2 million AstraZeneca shots.
It has also received 250,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and part of an order of 500,000 doses of India’s COVAXIN.
With a population of 83 million, Iran had hoped to secure over 2 million vaccines by March 20 to vaccinate mainly healthcare workers. It is developing at least four local vaccine candidates, one in cooperation with Cuba, which are expected to reach production in a few months.