Iran blames U.S. sanctions for vaccine payment problems


Dubai (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions are preventing Iran from making advance payment to the global COVAX facility set up to provide COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries, the Iranian government said as the virus death toll kept climbing in the Middle East’s hardest-hit state.

Battling a third wave of the coronavirus, Iran is considering imposing a two-week total lockdown in the capital, state media reported as the death toll rose by 461, close to a daily record, to 40,582 on Friday.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that Iran had identified 11,737 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, taking the total number to 738,322.

Iranian media said talks were under way among government and health officials to impose a two-week lockdown in Tehran, which could be announced as early as Saturday and entail the closure of non-essential businesses.

Lari also said Iran’s early payments for vaccines to the COVAX global facility have been held up because of tough U.S. financial sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions that Washington reimposed on Tehran after President Donald Trump walked away from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear programme.

But the U.S. measures, which target sectors including oil and financial activities, have deterred some foreign banks from processing financial transactions with Iran deals, which Tehran says has frequently disrupted efforts to import essential medicines and other humanitarian items.

“Our country’s pre-payment to participate in COVAX is under way, but due to the cowardly sanctions of the Americans and the problems in the transfer of currency, this has not happened yet,” state media quoted Lari as saying.

In another move to mitigate the spread of the virus, the government on Tuesday imposed restrictions for one month requiring all non-essential businesses to close at 6 p.m. in major cities.

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