Iran sees first cases of South African COVID-19 variant

Authorities examine few Indians to know whether they are carrying the Indian variant of coronavirus.

Iran sees first cases of South African COVID-19 variant

Iran has identified three cases of the South African variant of coronavirus for the first time, amidst a fourth wave of the pandemic in the country.

Authorities are also examining a few Indians, who are reportedly infected, to know whether they are carrying the Indian variant of the coronavirus.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki told reporters on Tuesday that three cases of the South African variant had been identified in southern Iran, warning of "harder days ahead".

He underlined challenges facing the healthcare workers, who are presently dealing with a fourth wave of the pandemic triggered by the English mutated virus.

"Unfortunately, deaths are likely to surge," Namaki said. "In next few days, we will have to face more difficult days in terms of deaths due to mass hospitalizations."

Pertinently, Monday recorded the highest single-day fatalities since the outbreak of the disease in February last year with 496 deaths.

One of the worst-hit countries in the region, Iran has so far recorded 2.42 million cases and over 70,000 deaths due to the virus.

Namaki said despite the strenuous efforts of healthcare workers, other variants of the novel virus are infiltrating Iran "moment by moment".

"I have previously stated that viruses do not require passports. As the Wuhan virus was able to reach here, we could hear the footsteps of South African and Brazilian viruses on our borders, as well as the Indian virus, which threatens to enter from the eastern and southeastern borders," he said.

The minister said the health authorities were evaluating cases of Indians in one of southern Iranian cities, who had previously contracted the virus to see if they were infected with the Indian variant.

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned against the entry of Indian variant into the country, terming it "more dangerous" than other variants found across the globe.

He also ordered the suspension of air traffic between Tehran and New Delhi to prevent the Indian variant from reaching Iran.

Iran has been grappling with the English variant in the fourth wave of the pandemic, which has taken the daily infections and deaths to a record high in recent weeks.

Vaccination rollout has also been slow, primarily due to difficulties in importing the foreign vaccines and unavailability of homegrown vaccines that are likely to be ready for mass usage from next month.

This week, Iran started vaccinating its nationals who are above the 80 years of age, with other high-risk and vulnerable groups to follow in coming weeks, officials said.

Two Iranian vaccines have also entered the third phase of human testing.