Iranians urged to take virus 'seriously' as cases stay high

Tehran (AFP) –


Iran urged its citizens to take social distancing "more seriously" on Friday as it announced more than 1,500 new cases of coronavirus infection in the Middle East's hardest-hit country.

Since reporting its first cases in mid-February, the Islamic republic has struggled to contain the spread of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 55 new virus fatalities in the past 24 hours took the overall death toll in the health crisis to 6,541.

He said another 1,556 people tested positive for the novel coronavirus over the same period of time, taking the country's caseload to 104,691.

"We (Iranians) are urged to continue to follow health advice, especially social distancing, more seriously than on previous days and weeks," Jahanpour said in televised remarks.

Experts and officials both in Iran and abroad have cast doubts over the country's COVID-19 figures, saying the real number of cases could be much higher than reported.

On Saturday, the government's official tally of daily infections hit 802 -- its lowest level since the start of March.

Iran's count stayed below 1,000 for a second day, however its caseload rebounded on Monday and has stayed above that mark on each day since then.

Since April 11, Iran has allowed a gradual reopening of shops and, since Monday, mosques in about 30 percent of the counties where the risk of renewed outbreaks is considered low.

In order to contain the spread of the disease, Iran has taken various restrictive measures, without ever imposing a lockdown or quarantine.