Deaths in Iran from the novel coronavirus have topped 24,000, the health ministry said Saturday, blaming reduced use of face masks by the public.
Figures “show that the use of masks is declining, and at the same time we see a rise in daily infections and hospitalizations,” ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said in televised remarks.
“Let us not forget that the current condition of the virus reflects our observance of health protocols and mask usage,” she said.
Earlier this week, the anti-coronavirus coordinator for Tehran, Alireza Zali, said that forecasts show Iran “moving toward the third wave of the coronavirus, and it seems the wave will take shape in Tehran much earlier than other provinces.”
Iran’s director of the National Coronavirus Control Center, Iraj Harirchi, said the country’s color-coding system no longer made “any sense.”
“We no longer have orange and yellow, the whole country is in red,” he warned on Iranian TV in remarks cited by Reuters.
“If the current course continues, the death toll will reach 45,000,” he said without giving a timeframe.
Since late February, Iran has been battling the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of COVID-19.
Infections and deaths have been on a rising trajectory this month. Daily infections have remained above 2,000 for the past two weeks and are nearing the 3,574 high reached in early June.
In the 24 hours leading to Saturday, 2,845 people tested positive for the coronavirus, raising the total to 419,043, the health ministry said.
A further 166 deaths from the disease were recorded, bringing the overall toll to 24,118.
There has been skepticism at home and abroad about Iran’s official figures, amid concerns the real toll could be much higher.
Iran has made wearing masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces and repeatedly called on the public to refrain from non-essential travel.