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Iran shuts border with Iraq over UK variant spread

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Iran on Saturday shut its border crossings with Iraq and barred travel to provinces bordering the neighboring country over spread of the UK variant of coronavirus.

The western province of Khuzestan, which borders Iraq, has been worst hit by the coronavirus mutant, with majority of new cases reported from there.

According to local media reports, two children died in the province this week after contracting the UK variant, which was first reported in Iran last month.

Iran’s Health Ministry had earlier reported the death of two people due to the UK variant of coronavirus in central Qazvin and Alborz provinces, pointing to spread of the virus.

Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki, expressing concern over the alarming situation in Khuzestan and adjoining provinces, on Saturday said the virus was carried by travelers coming from Iraq.

He said instructions were given to the Interior Ministry to close the border with Iraq and bar travel to provinces of Khuzestan, Kermanshah and Ilam, which share border with the neighboring country.

Describing the UK variant of coronavirus as dangerous, Namaki called for high alert in provinces in the neighborhood of Khuzestan, especially in Fars and Isfahan provinces.

He said the UK variant of the virus had “spread across the country” and was “beyond what had been said before” while calling for strict compliance with health protocols.

Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, Iran’s interior minister, confirmed that the border with Iraq is being shut, saying that the situation in Khuzestan was discussed in Saturday’s anti-corona headquarters meeting and key decisions were taken to contain its spread.

Last week, Alireza Raisi, spokesman for Iran’s anti-corona taskforce, said nine major cities in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan are presently in the red category, with high rate of infections.

The spokesman also noted with concern the situation in West Azerbaijan province, bordering Azerbaijan and Turkey, where the cases have seen an upward trend recently.

Iran’s Deputy Parliament Speaker Syed Amir Ghazizadeh Hashemi, who is also a member of the anti-corona taskforce, had called the situation in Khuzestan and West Azerbaijan “worrying”, especially with the UK variant of the virus making inroads in the country.

– Coronavirus situation

Iran has so far reported over 1.5 million cases of the virus since its outbreak in the country in February last year. A total of 59,409 people have died from it.

Vaccination rollout began last week with healthcare workers and other high-risk groups being administered the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine in the first phase.

Efforts are also underway to import vaccines from China, Cuba, South Korea, and India, according to officials.

Meanwhile, Iran is also racing to produce a homegrown vaccine, while two vaccines have passed the human trial phase.

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