Iran imposes restrictions on unvaccinated in new COVID plan

Iran announces a new COVID-19 plan that will limit some public spaces to those with a digital pass showing they have been fully vaccinated.

Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government has launched a “smart protocols” plan that will impose some restrictions on those unvaccinated against COVID-19, as it aims for the country to learn to “co-exist” with the coronavirus.

The plan was rolled out on Monday across the country, where a fifth deadly wave of the pandemic has been contained but concerns remain over another spike in infections, according to the health ministry.

Participation in activities in indoor public spaces and the use of public transport will be contingent on obtaining a digital vaccine pass issued by the health ministry.

The passes will be available to those who have been fully vaccinated.

Activities including attending school, going to the cinema and travelling on aeroplanes or buses to other provinces would require a digital pass, the government said.

Residents who are classed as unvaccinated would still be able to engage in indoor activities if they provide a valid negative PCR test, the government said.

Those who are either unvaccinated or infected and attempt to enter cities that are classified as “red” or “orange” in a weekly updated colour-coded map denoting the severity of outbreaks will face fines, according to the roads ministry.

It also said penalties have been considered for infected citizens who exit their homes during the period of their illness. It remains unclear how those patients are to be monitored – as Iran does not engage in widespread contact tracing – and how high the fines will be.

The health ministry wants the same protocols implemented in city-wide public transport such as metro stations and buses as well, but it appears the online infrastructure is not in place yet. More details are expected in the coming weeks.

The national anti-coronavirus task force said last month that a nighttime curfew for vehicles has been scrapped after much deliberation as it was deemed not effective enough. Last month, spectators were also allowed into a football match in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium for the first time in 22 months.

The plan was initially meant to be implemented two weeks ago but faced delays as the national vaccine rollout had not reached its target. A pilot programme was earlier implemented in three provinces to identify potential problems.

According to the latest health ministry figures, more than 58 million Iranians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while more than 48 million are fully vaccinated, for a nationwide rate of close to 60 percent.

After starting with healthcare workers and then moving to immunocompromised citizens and those more than 60 years of age, Iran is now offering third doses to those more than 40 who received their second dose at least three months earlier.

The pace at which jabs are being administered has slowed recently after gaining significant pace in the past three months when more jabs were imported.

The majority of vaccines imported into Iran were those of China’s Sinopharm, followed by AstraZeneca jabs. Imports were halted in September after the administration of President Ebrahim Raisi said enough doses had been stockpiled and production capacity for several locally developed vaccines had increased.

After announcing its first coronavirus deaths in February 2020, Iran has recorded the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the Middle East, with more than 130,000 officially registered deaths. The country has recorded more than 6.13 million cases since the beginning of the pandemic but officials have said real numbers are likely higher.

The fifth wave of infections, fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant, peaked at 709 daily deaths in late August but has since been relatively contained, with daily fatalities dropping to below 100.

Iran has yet to report a case of the new Omicron variant but health officials have warned that its entry into the country is highly likely.

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