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Iran orders travel ban and shutdown amid COVID surge

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Iran is to impose a one-week lockdown and a ban on road travel amid a fifth COVID-19 surge in the worst-hit country in the Middle East, state television reported on Saturday.

All non-essential businesses and offices will have to close under the nationwide lockdown from Monday to Aug. 21, in an effort to curb the highly contagious Delta variant.

Authorities are also imposing a driving ban from Sunday until Aug. 27, except for essential vehicles.

“All roads will be closed except for trucks carrying food and essential goods and ambulances. This traffic ban will be very strictly imposed,” Alireza Raisi, spokesman for the national coronavirus task force, told the television.

Authorities will only allow open-air gatherings for ongoing Shi’ite Muslim mourning ceremonies, Raisi said.

The Health Ministry reported 29,700 new cases on Saturday, and 466 daily deaths, down from a record daily toll of 588 fatalities on Monday. Total deaths have reached 97,208, according to official figures.

Social media users have accused the government of mismanagement over slow vaccinations with only 3.8 million people fully inoculated in a population of 83 million.

Officials have blamed U.S. sanctions for hampering efforts to buy foreign vaccines and for delays in deliveries.

Photo: Iranians wearing face masks go shopping around Tehran’s grand bazaar in Tehran, Iran. EPA-EFE/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH