Iran faces COVID surge in southwest

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Iran has declared 10 southwestern communities as high-risk COVID-19 "red" zones, as a consignment of 100,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine arrives in the country.

Iran launched a vaccination drive on Tuesday, two weeks after declaring there were no "red" cities left in the hardest-hit country in the Middle East.

The inoculation focuses on hospital intensive care personnel as authorities await enough vaccines for the general population.

But Ahvaz, capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province and nine other cities and towns were declared "red" zones after a rise in cases and health authorities ordered non-essential businesses to close, the semi-official news agency ISNA said.

State television said 100,000 of the two million doses of Sputnik V vaccine that Iran had ordered arrived on Friday and Russia may increase the order to five million shots and allow Iran to produce the vaccine locally.

Iran plans to vaccinate 1.3 million people by March 20.

Iran also expects to receive more than four million doses of AstraZeneca's shot, despite a ban by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on importing US- and British-made vaccines.

Iran has recorded 1.5 million cases and 58,809 deaths, with the death toll of 58 on Friday at its lowest for more than eight months, according to health ministry data.

Tehran launched human trials of the first of its three domestic vaccine candidates in December.