Thousands of Iranians have traveled to Armenia in recent days to be vaccinated against Covid-19, as doses remain rare in their country and a wave of new cases, fueled by the rapidly spreading delta variant, threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

Iran is the country in the Middle East with the highest number of deaths from Covid-19. So far, less than 2% of the country’s 84 million people have received both doses of the vaccine, according to the online scientific publication Our World in Data.

Authorities are promising that mass vaccination will begin in September, although they must first vaccinate non-medical workers and people under the age of 60.

Until then, many Iranians decided to take matters into their own hands by heading to neighboring Armenia, where vaccine inoculation remained low amid widespread reluctance to take vaccines, and where authorities distribute free doses to foreign visitors.

Overcrowded Armenian centers

Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said last week that foreigners, including residents, accounted for up to half of the roughly 110,000 people vaccinated in the country.

It is not known exactly how many Iranians made the trip to be vaccinated, with Armenia remaining a popular summer getaway spot. But every day dozens of buses, taxis and flights bring around 500 Iranians across the border. Airlines have added three weekly flights between Iran and Yerevan, and the cost of bus tours has doubled.

But the influx has also inundated Armenian coronavirus testing centers. Dozens of people have been stranded in the buffer zone according to Iranian semi-official ILNA news agency, and several have passed out due to the heat.

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To better manage the influx of visitors, the government has imposed new restrictions. Last week, he decreed that foreign visitors could only receive the vaccine at five designated Oxford-AstraZeneca mobile clinics in Yerevan, and in an apparent effort to boost the country’s tourism sector, they must spend at least 10 days in Armenia. before getting vaccinated.

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