Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in Iran on Friday as the country continues to battle a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Iran, with the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East, has reported more than three million cases, including 82,000 deaths.
A fourth wave of infections was reported shortly after tens of millions of Iranians were allowed domestic travel for the Nowruz new year holidays in late March and new strains of the virus found their way into the country.
While daily cases have reduced to about one-third of the peak, more than 100 deaths are still being reported every day amid a vaccine rollout that has been criticised for being too slow.
The presidential election – as well as polls for city and village councils, the parliament and Assembly of Experts – is expected to witness a low turnout due to public disillusionment and the widespread disqualification of reformist and moderate candidates, as well as the pandemic.
COVID has had a significant effect on how the landscape of the election cycle has taken shape.
Indoor gatherings have been limited to 15 people for cities classified “red” in a colour-coded scale denoting the severity of outbreaks, while the limit has been set at 20 for “orange” and 30 for “yellow”.
But those protocols have already been broken as open-air gatherings for several candidates did not adhere to physical distancing requirements.
Frontrunner Ebrahim Raisi held a large rally in the southwestern city of Ahvaz last week, with images showing how thousands were crammed together and some were not wearing masks.
When questioned, Raisi said he had obtained a permit and while the national coronavirus headquarters said the event broke health protocols, no penalty was issued.