Iran sets new record for virus infections amid holiday surge

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran shattered its daily record for new coronavirus infections Wednesday for the second consecutive day, with recorded cases soaring to 20,954.

The country is in the midst of one of the most severe surges of the coronavirus to date, following a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which drove millions to travel to popular vacation spots across the country, crowd markets and congregate in homes for parties in defiance of government health guidelines.

There appears to be no respite in sight, as the country’s vaccine rollout lags, with only just over 200,000 vaccine doses having been administered in the country of 84 million, according to the World Health Organization.

Wednesday’s infection count easily surpassed the previous record set Tuesday of 17,430 infections. That signals the biggest surge in over four months.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Saeed Namaki warned of a further spike and said authorities had “lost control” over what he called “the rebellious COVID-19 dragon.” Officials have blamed the surge on gatherings and travel during the country’s biggest holiday, saying that compliance with health measures like social-distancing and mask-wearing noticeably plummeted over Nowruz. Police have done little to enforce the restrictions.

Tehran, the capital, and several other major cities were declared so-called “red zones” this week, which have the most severe restrictions in place and the highest virus positivity rate. Over 85% of the country now has the “red” or “orange” infection status, authorities said.

For months, Iran has struggled to curb the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in the Middle East. Wednesday’s case count brought the total number of infected in the outbreak to 1,984,348, according to official figures. The health ministry reported 193 new deaths from the coronavirus, raising the country’s death toll to 63,699 — the highest toll in the region.

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