Iran began a 10-day lockdown on Saturday amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, state television reported, a worrying trend after more than a year battling the Middle East’s worst outbreak.
The Iranian coronavirus task force, charged with setting virus restrictions, ordered the closure of most stores and the limitation of offices to a third of capacity in cities designated as “red zones”.
The capital Tehran and 250 other cities across the country have been declared red zones. They have the highest virus positivity rates and the strictest restrictions. Over 85% of the country now has either a red or an orange infection status, authorities said.
The sharp rise in infections follows a two-week holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Millions traveled to the Caspian coast and other popular vacation spots, filling markets to buy new clothes and toys, and gathering in homes for parties that violated state health guidelines.
The new lockdown also affects all parks, restaurants, bakeries, beauty salons, shopping malls and bookstores.
There didn’t seem to be a deadline for the virus to spread as the Iranian vaccine rollout was delayed. According to the World Health Organization, only around 200,000 doses out of 84 million have been administered in the country
COVAX, an international partnership for equitable worldwide delivery of the vaccine, delivered its first shipment from the Netherlands of 700,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Iran on Monday.
The Ministry of Health said there were more than 19,600 new infections on Saturday, including 193 deaths. The confirmed death toll since the outbreak began was more than 64,200 in the country’s 83 million.
Hadi Minaie, a shopkeeper in the Tehran Grand Bazaar, said mismanagement was causing the new boom and the government should have stopped people moving during Nowruz – not at a time when people are making a living.
“Nobody can say that the lock should not have been imposed. But better management would have got it through the Nowruz vacation when everything was already closed, not now when everyone wants to work and earn a living, “he said.
“Lockdowns are only effective to a certain extent, but how long should people pay the price,” said Alireza Ghadirian, a carpet seller in the bazaar. He said the government needs to do more to provide vaccines.
Authorities have done little to enforce lockdown restrictions, initially resisting a statewide lockdown to save an economy already devastated by harsh US sanctions. A year after the pandemic, public fatigue and intransigence has deepened.
Saeed Valizadeh, a motorcyclist who makes a living hauling passengers and light packages from the bazaar, said if the government paid a grant to low-income citizens, they could afford to stay home.
“Those who are rich have no problem staying home, but we can’t,” he said.
President Hassan Rouhani said several factors played a role in the rising number of cases, but the main culprit was the British variant of the virus, which entered Iran from Iraq.
Earlier this year, the country launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign, giving medical professionals a limited number of Russian Sputnik-V vaccine doses.
Associated Press television producer Mohammad Nasiri contributed to this report from Tehran.