Iran appears to be in the grip of a “third wave” of the coronavirus outbreak, with the number of new infections above 3,000 a day – as high as at any point since the virus first hit in February.
Iran was one of the first countries to be struck by the virus outside China. Its officials brought the disease under a form of control by early May, but then experienced an increase at the start of June that drifted down to fewer than 1,600 new cases a day in late August.
According to the latest figures released on Friday by the Iranian health department, 144 people had died and 3,049 new cases had been registered in the previous 24 hours. The total number of confirmed deaths from Covid-19 stands at 23,952, and 28 of the country’s provinces, including the capital, Tehran, are classified as red or yellow on a scale denoting the severity of outbreaks.
Earlier this week, Alireza Zali, the anti-coronavirus coordinator for Tehran, said forecasts showed the country was “moving towards the third wave of the coronavirus, and it seems the wave will take shape in Tehran much earlier than other provinces”.
Iraj Harirchi, the director of the National Coronavirus Control Centre, said the country’s colour coding system no longer made any sense. “We no longer have orange and yellow, the whole country is in red,” he said. He warned the death toll may reach 45,000, with the complication of influenza arriving soon.
Abbas Ali Dorsti, vice-chancellor for health at Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, warned that despite the observance of 70% of health protocols by Iranian people, events in recent weeks, including the increase in travel and non-observance of protocols by some people meant infections were back on the rise.
Schools and universities have reopened, but it has been left to parents to decide whether to send their child to class, and in many cases parents are keeping children at home.
With some Iranians warning of a health catastrophe this winter, the increasingly remote Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said the health department was trying to assemble an extra 10,000 hospital beds.
More than 400,000 Iranians are officially recorded as having contracted the virus, although these official figures are widely regarded as an underestimate. The crisis is coming at a time of unprecedented pressure on the cost of living of ordinary Iranians as sanctions bite, hitting the currency, and driving up the price of everyday goods from cars, petrol and butter.
The political dispute between the US and Iran over sanctions is also intensifying ahead of the US presidential elections.