Tehran, Iran – Iran’s parliament has temporarily suspended its sessions because of an outbreak of COVID-19 among MPs as the Omicron variant spreads across the country at an explosive rate.
Senior lawmaker Nezam Mousavi announced on Monday that at least 47 members of the 290-member parliament have tested positive for the virus, prompting it to cancel its public sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Parliamentary commissions also suspended their sessions this week as per guidelines by the national anti-coronavirus task force.
The Iranian parliament was previously suspended for two weeks in April 2021 during an outbreak among MPs. During the first wave of the pandemic in early 2020, several lawmakers died from coronavirus.
At least 10 representatives in parliament are now hospitalised after contracting the virus, MP Alireza Salimi announced on Sunday.
Another senior lawmaker, Mojtaba Yousefi, confirmed that dozens of MPs have tested positive and said an unknown number of other parliament staff are also infected, taking the number much higher.
MP Jalal Rashidi said in a tweet on Sunday he is “amazed” at the number of his colleagues who participated in meetings even after testing positive.
“No justification is acceptable for endangering the health of others,” he wrote.
The news comes as most provinces across Iran now appear to be in the grip of a sixth major wave of the virus, this time defined by the extremely virulent Omicron.
After weeks of relative calm, Iran saw its first “red” city on a colour-coded map just five days ago.
But by Monday, the number of cities classified with the highest level of alarm had risen to 15, and the number of orange cities jumped to 61 from eight.
The number of daily fatalities doubled to 44 on Sunday from just a day earlier, but came back down to 30 on Monday.
But the daily figure of discovered cases is continuing its fast rise, reaching close to 29,000 cases on Monday, the health ministry said. The number of daily cases had dropped to 700 earlier in January.
At the start of its sixth major wave, Iran is still the Middle Eastern country hit hardest by the virus, having registered more than 132,000 fatalities so far.
President Ebrahim Raisi announced last week that he will suspend his provincial travels until further notice as cases are on the rise.
However, his administration has yet to announce any new social restrictions in response to rising infections, still implementing its “smart protocols” plan that imposes some restrictions on the unvaccinated, who number up to six million adults, according to the health ministry.
Authorities continue their criticism of a group they say comprises nearly half of adult Iranians who refuse to adhere to health protocols like mask-wearing and physical distancing. State television on Monday aired another report showing many do not wear masks in public spaces such as metro stations.
Health officials have also repeatedly called on Iranians to take their booster shots. About 17 million people have received their third dose, according to the health ministry, while more than 54 million have received two doses.