Iranian women in Tehran, October 4, 2020 (Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Iran’s officials are warning of a “fourth wave” of Coronavirus, with the spread of mutated strains across the country.

President Hassan Rouhani said on State TV that “alarm bells are ringing”, with nine cities and towns in southwestern Iran moved to the highes-risk “red zones”.

He told a National Coronavirus Task Force of the need for observation of health protocols, and for strict checks on travel into Iran: “Care about the country’s entry points, especially from countries with mutated viruses, should be done more carefully and the testing and quarantine steps of passengers should be observed with sensitivity.”

On Saturday, Health Minister Saeed Namaki told heads of medical colleges in a televised statement, “Hard days are beginning for us, and you must prepare to fight the most uncontrollable mutated virus which is unfortunately infecting the country.”

He said Iran’s first three deaths last week were from a Coronavvirus variant first found in the UK. With one of the victims having no history of travel, Namaki said community spread meant the mutated strain “may be found in any city, village, or family”.

He told Iranians “not to turn weddings into funerals” with mass gatherings.

In late January, Iranian officials declared that there were no “red zones” after a record surge in deaths and cases last autumn. The infections were only checked with the belated imposition of strict containment measures in mid-November.

Last week, the Government proclaimed the start of inoculations using Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Health Minister Namaki’s son was the first to receive a dose, in a State TV broadcast.

See also Coronavirus: Iran Begins Vaccinations

But Rouhani told the Task Force that it is “not yet clear…whether these vaccines would be effective against new mutations in this the disease”.

Iran’s official death toll is 58,945, with more than 1.52 million cases.

Fatalities have dropped to a daily average of 62, but daily cases have begun to rise, reaching more than 7,400 — more than half the peak in November.