TEHRAN (AA) – On June 2 last year, after reporting zero deaths from COVID-19 following two years of multiple devastating waves, Iran’s Health Minister Bahram Einollahi congratulated the nation.
Ten months on, the Middle East’s worst-hit country is grappling with the eighth wave of the coronavirus pandemic — an alarming surge in new infections and related deaths.
Health Ministry spokesperson Pedram Pakaein said the upsurge in COVID-19 infections in the past few weeks constitutes a new wave.
He said the virus is circulating in the country in the form of omicron subvariants of XBB and BQ.1, both deemed highly transmissible. The XBB, detected first in India last August, has already been identified in 17 other countries, including the US.
Pakaein, however, added that the tally of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Iran has been relatively less than in the US and Europe, which reported the first cases in 2020 after Iran.
According to the Health Ministry’s daily bulletin on Thursday, 23 more people died of the cataclysmic virus “in the past 24 hours”, taking the total death toll to 145,319 since early 2020.
As many as 1,039 people also contracted the infection “in the past 24 hours, including 486 people who required hospitalization,” the ministry said.
At present, 13 Iranian cities are in the high-risk “red” category on the color-coded COVID-19 map released by the Health Ministry, 48 cities in the moderate-risk “orange” category, 194 cities in the low-risk “yellow” category and 193 in the normal “blue category.”
The number of cities in the high-risk category has markedly increased from four in early March to 13 now. In June last year, when the seventh wave ended, no city was marked as high risk.
“Uptick in fresh COVID-19 infections and deaths in recent weeks isn’t a pleasing trend, especially after we overcame multiple waves of the pandemic to record zero deaths last year and infections also came down to three-digits,” Dr. Shariyar Haideri, a Tehran-based epidemiologist said.
He attributed it to the “lack of adherence to health and safety protocols” as well as “many people skipping triple vaccine doses” assuming that the “worst is over.”
New wave and holidays
Notably, daily infections hit the four-digit figure this week first time since September last year as people have been traveling to different cities to mark the Iranian New Year (Nauruz).
The Iranian calendar year begins on March 21 and holidays normally last two weeks.
Mojtaba Neku, a tour and travel operator in southern Iran’s Shiraz city, reported that the influx of tourists this year has been the highest since the pandemic broke out in Iran in February 2020.
Pakaein said more than 600 people are currently admitted to intensive care units in hospitals across the country, most of them with cardiovascular, pulmonary and respiratory ailments.