Iran bans passengers from 5 border crossings to Iraq to curb virus surge

Iran has imposed a ban on passenger travel through five of its border crossings into neighboring Iraq amid heightened fears about the spread of a mutated variant of coronavirus.

Iranian customs office (IRICA) said on Monday that movement through four crossings into Iraq had been suspended and a fifth major gateway to the Arab country will stop processing passengers as of Tuesday.

IRICA spokesman Rouhollah Latifi said the decision was meant to contain the spread of the so-called British variant of coronavirus amid fears that the infection is spreading fast in provinces on the Iraqi border.

Latifi said the ban would be inclusive and would apply to passengers with special travel permits, including diplomatic staff.

Reports suggested the closures would be in place at least for two weeks while borders will remain open to cargo trucks.

Iran is struggling to prevent a fourth wave of coronavirus infections in the run-up to the Persian New Year holidays beginning late March.

Health authorities in the populous province of Khuzestan on the southwestern border with Iraq have confirmed a more dangerous variant of coronavirus which was first detected in England in December has started circulating in the province.

Iran has recorded over 1.5 million coronavirus cases and nearly 60,000 deaths from the virus. The country started a vaccination campaign for the vulnerable and the frontline health workers earlier this month.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday that a batch of Sinopharm vaccines donated to Iran by China is due to arrive in the country soon.

Saeid Khatibzadeh made the announcement on Chinese vaccines off the record, saying technical issues related to the consignment have yet to be finalized.

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