The new coronavirus is killing one person every four minutes in Iran, state TV reported on Thursday, a death rate authorities said was sure to quicken if Iranians continue to fail to adhere to health protocols, as the country finalized a deal with Russia to purchase 60 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine.
"This week is worse than the previous week. The situation will be much worse next week and we have very difficult days ahead," Health Minister Saeed Namaki was quoted by state media as saying.
The health ministry in the Middle East's hardest-hit country on Thursday reported 321 new deaths and 25,078 new cases over the past 24 hours. A banner on state TV said that amounted to a death every four minutes.
In some cities, the ILNA news agency reported, hospitals had run out of beds to treat new patients.
Thursday's data took Iran's death toll to 65,680 and the number of identified cases to 2,168,872, health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV.
Complaining about poor social distancing, authorities have imposed a 10-day lockdown since Saturday across most of the country to curb the spread of a fourth wave of the coronavirus.
The lockdown affects 23 of Iran’s 31 provinces.
Businesses, schools, theaters, sports facilities and other public institutions have been forced to shut and gatherings are banned during the fasting holy month of Ramadan.
The severe surge in infections follows a two-week public holiday for Nowruz. Millions traveled to the Caspian coast and other popular vacation spots, packed markets to shop for new clothes and toys and congregated in homes for parties in defiance of government health guidelines.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Iran’s ambassador to Russia, Kazem Jalali, as saying a contract has been “signed and finalized” for enough Sputnik V vaccinations to inoculate 30 million people.
There appeared to be no respite in sight to the virus’s spread as Iran’s vaccine rollout lagged. Only some 200,000 doses have been administered in the country of 84 million, according to the World Health Organization.
COVAX, an international collaboration to deliver the vaccine equitably across the world, delivered its first shipment to Iran on Monday from the Netherlands, containing 700,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses.