Iran announced a record number of coronavirus cases Thursday, reporting more than 22,000 infections in a 24-hour period as it struggles to tame an explosive new outbreak.
The toll Thursday brought Iran’s total number of coronavirus cases to more than 2 million, cementing its position as the worst-hit country in the Middle East. Iran has recorded nearly 64,000 covid-19 fatalities.
The recent spike in cases followed celebrations of the Persian New Year, when Iranians meet, travel and feast to welcome the spring. Authorities have fought to impose stricter lockdown measures, but Iran’s ailing economy has meant many residents flout the rules so they can continue to work.
In the capital, Tehran, and other major cities, nonessential shops were ordered closed.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari called on Iranians on Thursday to avoid big gatherings, saying it was a “moral and social responsibility,” according to the Associated Press.
“The very dangerous situation of the disease in recent days has led to us losing a number of compatriots,” she said, the AP reported. “Yet many of us still cannot say ‘no’ to invitations to parties, weddings and funerals.”
The government has also overseen a slow vaccine rollout hampered in part by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s edict banning the import of vaccines developed in Britain and the United States.
On Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed U.S. sanctions for the country’s vaccine delays. He said Iran was struggling to pay for doses available through the United Nations-backed Covax program because the United States has blocked Tehran’s access to assets in foreign bank accounts.
“We were one of the first countries to place an order on time,” Rouhani said of the Covax program, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. “The United States has blocked us and delayed the transfer of our money. … That’s why our turn [with] Covax is a little behind.”