Tehran, Iran – Presidential elections are set to take place in Iran on Friday as the country continues to grapple with a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Iran, with the deadliest epidemic in the Middle East, has reported more than three million cases, including 82,000 deaths.
A fourth wave of infections has been reported shortly after tens of millions of Iranians were allowed to travel inside the country for Nowruz’s New Years holiday in late March and new strains of the virus entered the country.
While daily cases have been reduced to about a third of the peak, more than 100 deaths are still reported each day amid a vaccine rollout that has been criticized for being too slow.
The presidential election – along with polls for city and village councils, parliament and the Assembly of Experts – is expected to see low turnout due to public disillusionment and widespread disqualification of reformist and moderate candidates, as well as of the pandemic.
COVID has had a significant effect on how the electoral cycle landscape has taken shape.
National anti-coronavirus headquarters health protocols say campaign rallies and speeches can only be held in outdoor spaces like stadiums and schools if there is eight square meters of space for each person, the venue works at 30% of its capacity with mandatory masks and the event is capped at two hours.
Indoor gatherings were limited to 15 people for towns rated “red” in a color scale indicating the severity of outbreaks, while the limit was set at 20 for “orange” and 30 for “yellow”.
But those protocols have already been broken because outdoor gatherings of several candidates did not meet physical distancing requirements.
Leader Ebrahim Raisi last week organized a large rally in the southwestern town of Ahvaz, with footage showing how thousands of people were crowded together and some not wearing masks.
When questioned, Raisi said he had obtained a permit and although the national coronavirus headquarters said the event violated health protocols, no sanctions were imposed.
For Friday’s polls, the Iranian Interior Ministry has increased the number of voting booths across the country and ballots should be placed in open-air spaces where possible to avoid overcrowding and stimulate the vote. vote.
The ICT ministry has also released an app that will help voters find the nearest polling station that is not crowded. Voting is expected to start at 7 a.m. and can be extended until 2 a.m. on Saturday, with final results expected by noon.
A nighttime vehicle curfew has been in place for months, but will be lifted on Friday and Saturday to allow people to drive to polling stations. Travel between provinces will remain prohibited on Friday.
The elections are taking place as the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine still lags behind as the country closes in on mass production of locally developed vaccines.
About 4.5 million Iranians, or just over five percent of the population, have received at least one dose of vaccines imported from Russia, China, India and the global COVAX initiative.
Authorities expect millions of doses to be imported before the end of the year, but are relying mainly on local production to vaccinate the country’s 83 million people.
Officials at Setad, a powerful organization led by Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei that oversees production, said it can now make three million jabs per month and will increase production to 11 million doses per month in the future. .
Razi COV-Pars, a vaccine developed by the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute, is also in human trials and is expected to receive emergency use authorization soon.
A third vaccine – developed by an organization under the Ministry of Defense and called Fakhravac in honor of murdered nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh – is also the subject of human trials.
These are in addition to a vaccine developed by the Iranian Pasteur Institute in cooperation with Cuba, which is undergoing its third phase of human trials in Iran and is also expected to be deployed in large quantities.