Israeli president to make first-ever state visit to UAE


LONDON: An Iranian opposition group operating within and outside the Islamic republic has released figures claiming nearly half-a-million people have died from COVID-19 in the country. According to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, more than 499,800 virus-related deaths had occurred in Iran, almost four times the latest official toll of 132,274. In the worst-hit province, Tehran, the PMOI said 116,735 people had lost their lives to COVID-19. Even by official figures, Iran is the worst-hit country in the Middle East, with deaths and hospitalizations far exceeding those of its neighbors. It was also the first country in the region where the virus was detected. Official sources have reported that Iran was currently experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19, with a rising number of cases being linked to the highly transmissible omicron variant. On Monday, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency, the secretary of Iran’s epidemiologist committee said: “If we reimpose all the restrictions today, and if people fully abide by these regulations, the number of our patients will still reach five figures. More than 50 percent of the coronavirus cases are of omicron.” And the spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences said: “Omicron has become the main variant in (Isfahan) province. During the past week the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases has reached more than 1,500 cases.” Also on Monday, ISNA reported that the dean of Kerman University of Medical Sciences said: “Expect omicron to flare up in the not-so-distant future. The number of positive coronavirus cases has increased from 30 to 50 percent. Therefore, the alarm bell has sounded.” Iran’s COVID-19 outbreak has been blamed in some quarters on regime incompetence and Tehran prioritizing ideology over effective response. Last year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned the import of British and American-made vaccines, significantly hindering the country’s vaccination drive and, critics have said, causing more deaths. In August, Dr. Mohammed-Reza Zafarghandi, chairman of Iran’s non-governmental licensing and regulatory Medical Council, criticized the vaccine ban, and said: “Mortality has significantly dropped in countries where they vaccinated the population without any limits and setting (political) borders. “Will those who said vaccine imports should be restricted be accountable today?”

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