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IRGC Chief Demands Anti-Covid Jihad As Iran Vaccine Supplies Run Low

Commander-in-chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Hossein Salami has ordered the IRGC into the forefront of the fight against Covid-19. Speaking at a video conference with Health Minister Saeed Namaki, medical universities, and IRGC provincial commanders, Salami said the Guards should form Covid taskforces and " go house to house and stop people from moving as much as possible.”

The IRGC commander called for “a great jihad…to smash the virus.” In April 2020, soon after the beginning of the pandemic, the IRGC claimed it had developed a "breakthrough" super-device that could detect people infected with coronavirus within 100 meters. Salami personally "unveiled the device in a live program of the state-run television. Salami claimed that the device which consisted of a handheld detector, an antenna, and a dish-like part could detect the virus with a reliability rate of around 80 percent and promised its mass production.   

The Delta variant of Covid has spread in Iran over the past month, with daily deaths rising from under 200 in June to over 500. On Monday the health ministry announced a record high daily death toll of 588 and more than 40,000 infections. Health officials, doctors, and citizens across the country are describing a health system on the verge of collapse.

Enforcement of social-distancing protocols has become lax, with many being breached in Shia Muslim ceremonies during the current month of Muharram. In a televised speech on Wednesday Supreme Leader Khamenei called for swift and decisive action to contain the crisis. Nevertheless, Khamenei encouraged the continuation of religious ceremonies despite health minister's earlier appeal to him to intervene and declare a two-week shutdown in the country as well as health officials' warnings about the worsening of the situation. 

With only 3.5 percent of the population fully vaccinated, there is also a shortage of vaccines. On Wednesday Alireza Zali, head of the Tehran Coronavirus Combat Taskforce, said there were enough only for the next five days. Health officials have said that Chinese and Russian companies have failed to meet commitments over delivering the Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccines. 

Iran did not act soon enough to purchase Covid vaccines earlier this year, as Khamenei in January banned the purchase of American and British vaccines and said he would personally wait until a homegrown vaccine was available. On Tuesday Food and Drug Administration Spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said all vaccines approved by the WHO including AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer were allowed to be imported if they were not produced in the US or Britain. "This has been possible in the case of AstraZeneca and efforts are underway to procure the other ones from permitted sources," he said in a tweet.

Two neighbors with higher vaccination rates, Turkey (33.4 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (73 percent), have both used a mixture of Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, and Sputnik. Iran is barely higher than Afghanistan (0.6 percent) and Iraq (1.7 percent).

Iran has reported 96,216 deaths and 4.32 million cases but from almost the onset of the pandemic many health experts, media, and local officials have said the health ministry’s numbers do not reflect reality, with some estimating the real number of deaths 2.5 times higher. On Wednesday Zali, the Tehran taskforce head, accused the health ministry of concealing the real figures from the WHO.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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