Iran has reported a record daily increase in the number of coronavirus cases, stoking fears of a second wave in the Middle East’s biggest outbreak.
The health ministry said 3,574 new Covid-19 infections were recorded on Wednesday – the third consecutive day the figure has exceeded 3,000.
Another 59 people with the disease died, raising the toll to 8,071.
The president has said restrictions may be re-imposed if people do not follow social distancing and hygiene rules.
Before Wednesday’s new infections were reported, bringing the overall total to 164,270, the previous high was 3,186 on 30 March. The number of cases then declined steadily until 2 May, when 802 were recorded.
Authorities seem reluctant to impose lockdown
By Rana Rahimpour, BBC Persian
For the third consecutive day, Iran has reported more than 3,000 cases.
The situation in several provinces has been classified as “alarming” and some restrictions have been reinstated in Khuzestan, in the south-west of the country, where there is a state of emergency.
Experts believe several reasons are behind the increase in cases. Most important is the fact that many Iranians are not taking social distancing seriously.
Ignoring official advice, thousands of people travelled to northern Iran – then considered a high-risk “red” zone – two weeks ago for the Eid al-Fitr holidays. Undergrounds, banks and offices have also been packed with people.
The authorities have been warning about a second wave of the outbreak, but they do not seem interested in a second lockdown in order to contain the virus – at least for now.
Since early April, the government has been trying as much as it can to reopen businesses, schools and religious sites, and revive an economy that was already crippled by US sanctions. Last weekend, it allowed all civil servants to return to work and mosques resumed daily prayers.
However, such moves have caused concern among health officials.
“People seem to think the coronavirus is over,” Health Minister Saeed Namaki told a news conference on Tuesday. “The outbreak is not over yet and at any moment it may come back stronger than before.”
“If our people fail to respect the health protocols… we must prepare ourselves for the worst situation,” he added.
Mr Namaki said the authorities had pleaded with people not to hold weddings or funerals, but they had not listened.
Reported Covid-19 cases in Iran
President Hassan Rouhani echoed the comments on Wednesday, saying: “If in any part of the country these warnings are not taken seriously and, God forbid, the outbreak of illness peaks again, the authorities will have to re-impose restrictions.”
He added: “This will create problems for the ordinary lives of citizens and also will bring serious economic damage to society.”
Last week, Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said a health ministry poll suggested only 40% of the population believed in social distancing, down from 90%, and that 32% believed in self-isolation, down from 86%. He called this a “calamity”.