In Iran, slow vaccinations fuel anger in unending pandemic

In Iran, slow vaccinations fuel anger in unending pandemic
Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi (2n L) during a visit to Imam Khomeini Hospital and Corona Vaccination Center in the capital Tehran. Iran reported over 500 daily COVID-19 deaths for the first time, as new infections also hit a record high. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 August 2021

In Iran, slow vaccinations fuel anger in unending pandemic

In Iran, slow vaccinations fuel anger in unending pandemic
  • Only 3 million of Iran's more than 80 million people having received both vaccine doses
  • Since the start of the pandemic, Iran has recorded nearly 4 million COVID-19 cases and more than 91,000 deaths

DUBAI: Iranians are suffering through yet another surge in the coronavirus pandemic — their country’s worst yet — and anger is growing at images of vaccinated Westerners without face masks on the Internet or on TV while they remain unable to get the shots.

Iran, like much of the world, remains far behind countries like the United States in vaccinating its public, with only 3 million of its more than 80 million people having received both vaccine doses. But while some countries face poverty or other challenges in obtaining vaccines, Iran has brought some of the problems on itself.

After Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused to accept vaccine donations from Western countries, the Islamic Republic has sought to make the shots domestically, though that process lags far behind other nations.

The supply of non-Western shots remains low, creating a black market offering Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shots for as much as $1,350 in a country where the currency, the Iranian rial, is on the verge of collapse. Meanwhile,

US sanctions imposed on Iran mean the cash-strapped government has limited funds to purchase vaccines abroad.

And even as the delta variant wreaks havoc, filling the country’s already overwhelmed hospitals, many Iranians have given up on wearing masks and staying at home.

The need to earn a living trumps the luxury of social distancing.

“What is next? A sixth wave? A seventh wave? When is it going to end?” asked Reza Ghasemi, a 27-year-old delivery man without a face mask, smoking a cigarette next to his motorbike on a recent day in Tehran. “It is not clear when this situation will change to a better one.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Iran has recorded nearly 4 million COVID-19 cases and more than 91,000 deaths — the highest numbers across the Middle East.

The true count is believed to be much higher. In April 2020, Iran’s parliament warned its case number was “eight to 10 times” higher than the reported figures, due to undercounting. While coronavirus testing capacity has surged since then, officials repeatedly have suggested the case count remains far off. The death toll is likely three times higher, officials say, as Iran only counts those who die in a hospital while being treated for coronavirus.

Khamenei in January slammed shut any possibility of American or British vaccines entering the country, calling them “forbidden.”

”I really do not trust,” them, Khamenei said of those nations. “Sometimes they want to test” their vaccines on other countries.

The decision, after Khamenei earlier floated conspiracy theories about the virus’ origin in March 2020, saw Iran turn inward and try to develop its own vaccines. Those efforts, relying on traditional “dead virus” vaccines rather than the Pfizer and Moderna method of targeting the coronavirus’ spike protein using RNA, have yet to reach mass production. And while the government claims local shots are 85 percent effective, they’ve released no data from their trials.

For now, the majority of Iranians receiving vaccines rely on foreign-made shots. Japan has donated 2.9 million doses of its locally produced AstraZeneca shots. China has sent 10 million doses of its shots. Iran also made a deal with Russia to buy 60 million doses of Sputnik V, but so far, Moscow has delivered just over 1 million shots.

Doctors received the first set of vaccines, while the government now offers shots to those 50 and older, as well as to taxi drivers, journalists and those with diabetes. But it hasn’t been nearly enough to keep up with demand. Only 4 percent of the Iranian public are fully vaccinated, according to government statistics.

Those with residency permits have sought shots in the United Arab Emirates. Others have gone to Armenia where authorities offer free shots to visiting foreigners. In Tehran, word-of-mouth claims that Pfizer and Moderna shots smuggled in over the border from Irbil, Iraq, including the ultra-cold freezers needed for them, are now for sale in the Iranian capital.

A two-dose Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccine goes for $390, while two Pfizer shots cost $1,350. Those paying go on faith that the products have not expired — or are even legitimate vaccines.

Mahsa, a 31-year-old woman in Tehran, said she got the Moderna vaccine through her boyfriend’s friend, a doctor working at a pharmacy.
“I am sure the vaccine is genuine because I trust the doctor,” she said.

Amirali, a 39-year-old father of a baby girl, said he bought shots of the Japanese-made AstraZeneca vaccine from an Iranian doctor secretly vaccinating people for profit. Amirali said he took the chance as his wife, a permanent US resident, received the Pfizer vaccine while visiting America.

“I was not sure when the government will provide vaccines for my age group, so I decided to vaccinate myself,” he said.

Both Amirali and Mahsa spoke on condition that only their first names be used for fear of retribution from the authorities.

But for those who can’t pay, there are no shots yet.

Iran’s civilian government, now undergoing a transition of power to hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, has been overwhelmed by the crisis. And with the Islamic Republic also facing protests over economic issues, water shortages and blackouts, the government likely wants to avoid triggering wider unrest.

“They want us to accept any situation simply because they failed to do their duty with vaccinations,” said Abbas Zarei, who sells mobile phone accessories in northern Tehran. “From time to time, they announce that businesses should close because of corona restrictions though it damages our lives.”

“It is not fair,” said Zarei, who like many in Iran, struggles to make a living. “I do not care about the restrictions anymore.”

EU envoys urge Houthis to accept UN-brokered truce deal

EU envoys urge Houthis to accept UN-brokered truce deal
Updated 8 sec ago

EU envoys urge Houthis to accept UN-brokered truce deal

EU envoys urge Houthis to accept UN-brokered truce deal
  • Iran-backed terrorist militia told to lift Taiz siege and open road links
  • Three European representatives demand engagement with UN proposals
  • Abyan arms depot blast kills six, wounds dozens as poorly equipped hospital rushes severe casualties to Aden

AL-MUKALLA; The EU ambassadors in Yemen have asked the Iran-backed Houthis to de-escalate and implement the elements of the UN-brokered truce, mainly lifting their siege on the city of Taiz.

Ambassadors of France, Germany and the Swedish special envoy to Yemen called Hussein Al-Azi, a Houthi leader, to ask him to accept the UN proposal on opening roads in Taiz and work on achieving peace after he threatened to resume military operations in the central province of Marib. 

The ambassadors asked the Houthi leader to constructively engage with the UN Yemen envoy’s proposal and create “positive public rhetoric.” 

“Time to continue delivering on the expectations of #Yemenis, who want and need peace,” the EU mission in Yemen said on Twitter.  

Al-Azi has threatened to launch more relentless military operations in the province of Marib to recapture the province’s oil and gas fields and power stations from their opponents. 

Discussions on opening roads in Taiz have reached a deadlock after the Houthis rejected the UN envoy’s suggestion for opening a main road leading into and out of the city. 

The Yemeni government has again accused the Houthis of violating the truce by attacking its forces in many contested areas. 

A drone rigged with explosives on Monday targeted a location controlled by Security Belt forces in an area north of Dhale, killing a soldier and wounding many others, local media reported.

Elsewhere, at least six people were killed and 30 more wounded on Tuesday when large blasts hit an arms warehouse in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan, two local officials told Arab News. 

The first explosion occurred in the morning inside a busy popular market in Lawder, a large town in the province, attracting dozens of people to gather around the depot. 

The second explosion blew up a two-story house that contains the depot, killing and wounding dozens of onlookers. 

By the late afternoon, officials said they still could not give a precise number of casualties as deceased persons and the wounded were still arriving at Al-Shaheed Mahnef hospital in Lawder.

Residents rushed to the hospital, searching for their missing relatives and friends as the town’s main hospital called for blood donations. 

The poorly equipped and understaffed hospital was forced to refer critical cases to larger hospitals in Abyan and Aden. 

The cause of the explosion remains unknown, with residents calling for arms depots and oil storage facilities to be moved from the densely populated areas in Abyan. 

Abyan is a contested province between the internationally recognized government and separatists loyal to the Southern Transitional Council. It was the site of fierce battles in 2019 and 2020 that claimed the lives of many soldiers and Houthi terrorist militia fighters.

The Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda exploited the anarchy in the province to make a comeback. 

Suspected Al-Qaeda militants in the province are still holding five UN workers who were abducted in February while returning to neighboring Aden after finishing a field mission. 

Local officials and tribal mediators have failed to convince the abductors to release the workers. The kidnappers insist on swapping them with allied prisoners in Aden and demand a ransom of thousands of dollars.

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai
Updated 05 July 2022

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai

Investor in court for practicing unlicensed cosmetic medicine in Dubai
  • Suspect arrested during sting operation before applying a Botox injection for $1,275
  • If found guilty, the unlicensed doctor could face three years in jail, lawyer tells Arab News

DUBAI: An investor in a medical consultation company could face up to three years in jail, and/or a fine up to $542,700, if found guilty of practicing unlicensed medicine in Dubai.
Prosecutors referred the unidentified investor to the Dubai Misdemeanours Court for practicing medicine without obtaining a proper license after he was found to be injecting patients with cosmetic Botox and fillers.
Haifa Al-Marzouqi, assistant chief prosecutor at the Dubai Public Prosecution, said in a statement on Tuesday that the Dubai Healthcare Authority received a tip from an informant about a person practicing cosmetic medicine and applying fillers and Botox on patients at their homes.
“In collaboration with the DHA’s inspection department, someone posed as a potential patient and contacted the suspect to apply on her cosmetic injections. As part of a sting operation, the suspect was apprehended in a flat that was rented for that purpose,” said Al-Marzouqi.
Primary interrogations unveiled that the suspect is an investor in a medical consultation company and not a licensed doctor.
Lawyer Faisal Al-Zarouni told Arab News, that if found guilty, the suspect could be facing between one month and three years in jail, a fine varying between $54,270 and $542,700 or both punishments.
“According to the law … based on which prosecutors are requesting the court to try the suspect, it means the latter provided the health licensing authorities with false documents to obtain a license and practice medicine,” said Al-Zarouni.
Al-Marzouqi said the suspect came to the flat carrying a medium-sized handbag containing medical equipment and medical ointments.
After examining the informant’s face, he provided her with a medical consultation and advised that she needed a Botox injection in her forehead, and said he would charge her an amount of $1,275 for the procedure.
When asked how the public could prevent themselves against falling victim to unlicensed doctors, Al-Zarouni advised them to inquire about the doctor’s licenses listed on the DHA’s website.
Sources told Arab News a hearing will be scheduled next month.

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha
Updated 05 July 2022

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha

President of UAE pardons 737 prisoners ahead of Eid Al-Adha
  • The presidential pardon comes within UAE's humanitarian initiatives based on forgiveness and tolerance

ABU DAHBI: President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has ordered the release of 737 prisoners in the UAE, ahead of Eid Al-Adha, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

The pardoned prisoners had received prison sentences for a variety of offenses and the President also pledged to settle the financial obligations of the released prisoners.

The pardon is part of the UAE's humanitarian initiatives based on the values of forgiveness and tolerance, allowing the released prisoners to begin a new chapter in their lives and positively contribute to society, WAM reported.

In November, the former president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan also ordered the release of 870 prisoners to commemorate the UAE's milestone 50th National Day.

This was followed by the release of 540 prisoners in March, ahead of Ramadan.

With Eid Al-Adha approaching, the President's annual pardon aims to strengthen family bonds by reuniting inmates with their mothers, wives, and children.

Israel expands permits for Palestinians on Eid Al-Adha

Israel expands permits for Palestinians on Eid Al-Adha
Updated 05 July 2022

Israel expands permits for Palestinians on Eid Al-Adha

Israel expands permits for Palestinians on Eid Al-Adha
  • The decision will allow 400 Palestinians to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque
  • Their trips will take them from Erez Crossing to Al-Aqsa on shuttle buses


GAZA CITY: For the first time in years, Israel has announced that it will provide temporary visitor permits to Gaza Strip residents during the Eid Al-Adha festival.

The decision will allow 400 Palestinians to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque, while 500 others will be permitted to visit first-degree relatives in the West Bank and Israel.

Ghassan Elyan, coordinator of Israeli government activities in the Palestinian Territories, announced on Facebook that 400 visitor permits to Jerusalem for men aged over 55 and women aged over 50 will be issued.

Their trips will take them from Erez Crossing to Al-Aqsa on shuttle buses. They will then return to Gaza on the same day.

The approval of the permits, Elyan said, came from Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz “after assessing the security situation.”

He also announced the provision of wider permissions to West Bank residents, including family visits to Israel without specifying the number of permits, 200 permits to visit the city of Eilat, as well as allowing 500 Palestinians to travel through Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

Working hours at some crossings between the West Bank and Israel will be expanded. The crossing with Jordan will also be included in the expansion.

The move came as part of Israeli steps to quell tensions in the Gaza Strip and maintain peace in areas bordering Gaza, according to analysts.

Israel announced an increase in the quota of permits for Palestinians to work in the country from 10,000 to 12,000, despite rumors of an increase to 30,000 several months ago.

Mustafa Ibrahim, a Palestinian columnist, said that the move is an attempt to maintain calm and that the permits offered “do not change the reality of the Gaza Strip.”

Ibrahim told Arab News that without granting permits to at least 50,000 Palestinians to work in Israel, no change will occur in the Gaza Strip. “Israel forgets that the solution to the crisis in the Gaza Strip has to be political, not humanitarian,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority’s civil affairs department, which submits permit applications to Israel, announced that it was closing its permit line several hours after the Israeli decision due to a surge in applicants.

“Due to a huge number of citizens who have submitted requests to pray at Al-Aqsa and to visit relatives, and the limited number allowed by the Israeli side, we announce the closure of the counter to receive applications,” it said.

In previous years, Israel allowed elderly people residing in Gaza to visit Al-Aqsa, but the trips were halted due to what Israel described as a lack of security due to the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip.

Israel refuses to allow Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip to visit their relatives in the West Bank, except in cases of marriage, death and sometimes visits to patients with first-degree relatives.

Israel laid a strict siege on Gaza since Hamas — which it considers a hostile entity — took control of the area in 2007. It only allows the humanitarian passage of patients and imposes severe restrictions on the import of goods.

Imad Khalil, 56, was among the early birds who submitted an application to pray at Al-Aqsa, hoping he could visit Islam’s third holiest site for the first time in about 25 years.

But Najat Muhammad was unable to submit her application to visit her family in the West Bank, because by the time her turn came, the counter to receive requests was closed. She has not seen her loved ones in eight years.

“Israel did not allow me to visit my mother and brothers in the city of Tulkarm. My father died eight years ago, and since then I have been trying to get a permit but to no avail, and now I have failed to apply for a permit again,” she told Arab News.

Man in Jordan arrested for killing his two daughters and burying them

Man in Jordan arrested for killing his two daughters and burying them
Updated 05 July 2022

Man in Jordan arrested for killing his two daughters and burying them

Man in Jordan arrested for killing his two daughters and burying them
  • The man confessed to violently beating his daughters, aged 9 and 12, to death

AMMAN: A man was arrested on Monday for killing his two daughters and burying them near his house in Ramtha, Jordan.

According to the Public Security Directorate, a woman filed a complaint alleging that her ex-husband, who suffers from mental illness, violently beat her four children and that she feared for their lives.

The police immediately went to his house to arrest him and, while searching for the four children, found only two. Listening to their statements, the police confirmed that the man was violent with them.

The pair also claimed that the man murdered their two younger sisters, aged 9 and 12, before burying them near the house.

During interrogation, the father confessed to beating one of his daughters to death 10 days ago. Days later, he beat the other, who also died.

The directorate confirmed that the public prosecutor and the forensic doctor were immediately notified, and the bodies of the two girls were exhumed and transferred for an autopsy.

The other two children were taken to hospital to be checked on their physical and psychological states.