An undated handout picture released by the University of Oxford shows a health professional (right) administering a dose of the University’s COVID-19 candidate vaccine, known as AZD1222, co-invented by the University of Oxford and Vaccitech in partnership with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, during its trial. – AFP

TEHRAN: Iran said its novel coronavirus infections surpassed one million cases yesterday as the authorities consider easing restrictions in many parts of the Middle East’s hardest hit country. The Islamic republic has recorded 1,003,494 COVID-19 infections since announcing its first cases in February, ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said on state television.

The novel coronavirus has killed 49,348 people in Iran over the same period of time, according to official figures. But by the admission of some officials, including Health Minister Saeed Namaki, these figures are much lower than the actual number. In the past 24 hours the virus caused 358 new deaths in the country with a population of more than 80 million, and 13,922 new cases of infection, Lari said.

The number of fatalities, however, appears to have slightly eased in past days after soaring to a daily average of more than 400 for much of November. COVID-19 first surfaced in Iran on February 19, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom, a Shiite holy city south of the capital.
They were the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East. In response, the authorities have taken a series of measures aimed at halting the spread of the virus.

Faced with the dual challenge of US sanctions and the pandemic, however, they have never imposed full lockdowns for fear they would cause further damage to Iran’s economy. US President Donald Trump has imposed wave after wave of sanctions on the Islamic republic since 2018, when he unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.

Like most countries affected by the pandemic, Iran-which began developing its own vaccine in the spring-is awaiting the availability of a vaccine against the virus. Namaki announced on Wednesday that an Iranian company had “obtained a license to test a vaccine on humans”. Minou Mohraz, a medical epidemiologist with the National Coronavirus Control Committee, announced this week that an animal testing phase has been completed. They have yet to specify when testing will be carried out on humans. But Namaki said that if the step was successful, “we will be one of the major producers (of COVID vaccines) in the region by early next spring”.

Global toll
Meanwhile, the novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,495,205 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled at 1100 GMT yesterday. At least 64,522,200 cases have been registered. Of these, at least 41,049,400 are now considered recovered. The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.

Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases. On Wednesday, 12,445 new deaths and 632,957 new cases were recorded worldwide. Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 2,731 new deaths, followed by Mexico with 800 and Brazil with 698.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 273,847 deaths from 13,925,350 cases. At least 5,322,128 people have been declared recovered. After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 174,515 deaths from 6,436,650 cases, India with 138,648 deaths from 9,534,964 cases, Mexico with 107,565 deaths from 1,133,613 cases, and the United Kingdom with 59,699 deaths from 1,659,256 cases. The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Belgium with 146 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Peru with 109, Spain 98 and Italy 94.

China-excluding Hong Kong and Macau-has to date declared 86,567 cases, including 4,634 deaths and 81,667 recoveries. Latin America and the Caribbean overall has 452,112 deaths from 13,192,939 cases, Europe 426,588 deaths from 18,851,590 infections, and the United States and Canada 286,148 deaths from 14,312,344 cases. Asia has reported 196,793 deaths from 12,526,145 cases, the Middle East 80,028 deaths from 3,405,066 cases, Africa 52,594 deaths from 2,203,759 cases, and Oceania 942 deaths from 30,363 cases. As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies. – AFP