Iran's daily Covid deaths have risen alarmingly once again as many fear that upcoming religious ceremonies may lead to another crisis similar to August 2021.

The health ministry said Friday that 8,000 new Covid cases were identified in the last 24-hour reporting period and 54 patients died. This brought Iran's total reported cases since the beginning of the pandemic to over 7.3 million and the number of deaths to nearly 142,000. There have been many reports in Iran since the early days of the pandemic that there were far more deaths from Covid than officially recorded.

The new wave of Covid infections in the past few weeks has seriously affected nearly 150 cities and towns which have been labeled as ‘red’ and ‘orange’ Covid zones.

Abbas Shirozhan, spokesman of Iran’s Covid Taskforce, said Friday that holding religious mourning ceremonies during the Islamic months of Muharram and Safar (August 10 to October 8) would be allowed without any restrictions in open spaces while they can also be held indoors if the venue has proper ventilation and social distancing rules are followed.

There were videos of hundreds of men beating their chests to the tune of religious mourning songs in unrestricted religious gatherings in various cities in August 2021 but authorities did nothing to stop the ceremonies. Coupled with a low rate of vaccination, this resulted in a new wave of infections shortly after and daily death figures quickly rose to around 700.

Despite the spread of the Omicron variant in February, the daily death figures hovered around 230 due to more vaccination after August 2021. Since early March the number of infections and deaths has significantly dropped with daily deaths often remaining in single digits.

According to the latest official figures, nearly 65 million Iranians have had at least one dose, 58 million two doses but only 30 million have had a third shot of the vaccine.

In January 2021, the country’s anti-West ruler Ali Khamenei banned American and British-made vaccines when the only ones available at the time were three vaccines made by those countries.

Iranians in social media have repeatedly criticized him for vaccine ban, which increased infections and deaths last summer with the Delta surge. There were also suggestions that authorities played down the threat from Covid back in 2020 so as not to deter voting in parliamentary elections in February of that year.

Following the ban, the government allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to regime insiders for developing homegrown vaccines, a project that largely failed.

Iran's national vaccination plan did not make any significant progress before the presidency was handed over to Khamenei’s preferred candidate, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi in August last year. Raisi has repeatedly boasted about the success of his government in mass vaccination and Covid management.

But critics say centers of power controlled by hardliners impeded former President Hassan Rouhani’s vaccine purchases and once he was gone, they allowed mainly Chinese vaccines already ordered to flow into the country.

Iran’s homegrown Covid vaccine factories have been shutting down for lack of demand as many vaccinated with foreign vaccines refused to get homegrown ones as boosters. The whole scheme of producing domestic vaccines has turned out to be little more than wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and precious time in preventing tens of thousands of deaths in 2021.

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