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Frustrated By Lack Of COVID Vaccines, Iranians Go To Armenia

While the Delta variant of coronavirus is spreading in Iran, some Iranians frustrated by the unavailability of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, have chosen to travel to the neighboring Republic of Armenia to get their jabs.

Reports on Friday July 2 indicated that the Delta variant, first observed in southern Iran in places such as Bushehr, Hormozgan, and Sistan-Baluchestan Provinces, has now reached areas in northern Iran including Firouzkouh, Damavand and Amol.

Iran's Supreme Leader banned the importation of American and British vaccines and the country has so far secured a limited quantity of Russian and Chinese vaccines.

Iranian officials have been boasting about producing 6 different vaccines for COVID-19, however, none has been verified by independent bodies, and only one of them has been administered to selected groups of Iranians including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Less than 2 percent of the population has received their first jab.

Reports say Iranians fear the fifth wave of the pandemic is arriving, while health authorities announced around 14,000 new daily infections on Friday.

After several weeks of social media reports about Iranians traveling to neighboring Armenia to get the vaccine, one eyewitness account appeared on Twitter on Friday by an Iranian young woman who traveled the extra miles to complete her COVID-19 vaccine saga, albeit for the first dose.

Tweeting under the alias Santa Maria and Twitter handle @qazal60, she is a user whose friends call her Tina, which probably is not her real name. Iranians on social media usually take cover under several layers of security to dodge state scrutiny.

Tina wrote in a series of 13 tweets on Thursday and Friday that she was fed up with the long delay in vaccination in Iran, so she took a risk and travelled to Armenia alone. "I suggest the same to you only if you are desperate and frustrated by the long delay," Tina tweeted. 

Over 3,400 users liked her posts, 334 users retweeted or quoted them and 126 people commented on them or asked questions as of midday Friday.

She said there are flights from Tehran to Yerevan and there also buses that cost much cheaper than the flight. Currently, the buses are not allowed to cross the border and from there, the travelers need to take another bus or a van to Yerevan.

As an avid traveler, Tina took another route: "The buses were fully booked. So, I took a bus from Rasht to Tabriz where I took two taxies first to Hadi Shahr and then to the border. It was cheap and easy."

According to Tina, you need to have a negative COVID test result before reaching the border. Opioids are forbidden and you need to have your temperature and oxygen level tested at the border. But you do not need a visa for Armenia. From the border you can take a taxi to Yerevan for around 100 dollars for the eight-hour journey. Or you need to share a taxi or a van with other travelers for a cheaper journey.

When she reached Yerevan, she decided to go to a vaccination point before taking a rest.  She says the vaccine might even be available at the towns near the border. "Almost no one wears a mask. Yet the mortality rates are very low although Armenians do not apparently like the vaccine. That is why the government has enough doses to offer to tourists for free," she tweeted.

Currently, only Astra Zeneca vaccine is available. You hand in your passport at any square in the city and wait to be called for injection. Usually, the vaccination vans are surrounded by Iranian visitors.

Some people take the flight to Yerevan which costs around 50 million rials or $200. Others take a tour to Armenia which is more expensive. But for Tina the adventurist, it was quite cheap. She even stayed with a friend in Yerevan and did not pay for accommodation. She returns to Iran in a few days and goes back to Yerevan in a few weeks for her second dose. "However, the best means of travel is your own car although parts of the roads are rough," she said reminding everyone of the possibility of catching the virus on the plane or on the bus.   

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