Iran has reported a record number of more than 4,000 new cases of COVID-19, as most of the country is put on red alert over the coronavirus pandemic.
The highest single-day rise of 4,151 infections in the previous 24 hours took the number of identified cases in the worst-hit country in the Middle East to 479,825, the Health Ministry reported on Tuesday.
Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state television that 227 COVID-19 patients had also died in the past 24 hours, bringing the total deaths to 27,419.
The grim tally was announced a day after Iran reported 235 fatalities from the virus, a figure equal to the record-high death toll previously set on July 28.
According to officials, the majority of Iran’s 32 provinces are currently classified as red – the highest level – in a colour-coded scale denoting the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The situation in the capital Tehran has worsened, with provincial authorities indicating it will be compulsory to wear masks in all public places in the capital from Saturday in a bid to halt the spread.
Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Tehran, said the authorities are “very concerned” about a “third wave” of the pandemic.
“Officials have voiced their concerns, describing the situation here as ‘catastrophic’, ‘a tsunami’ and ‘critical’,” he said.
On Saturday, schools, libraries, mosques and other public institutions in Tehran closed for a week as part of measures to stem the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases.
Similar closures have been also imposed in Zanjan province, northwest of Tehran, and cities in several other provinces, shutting museums, theatres, gyms, cafes and hair salons, state media said.
Officials have complained that many have defied regulations to wear face masks and some families used lockdowns to go on trips, helping spread the virus at a time when hospitals are nearly full.
“If people keep going on weekend trips … our patients might have to go to field hospitals,” Masoud Mardani, a member of the state coronavirus task force, told the KhabarOnline website.
Al Jazeera’s Baig said there was a “coronavirus fatigue” in the country, with adherents to health protocols dropping to about 40 percent from 80 percent when the virus first hit the country back in February.
Because of coronavirus concerns, Iran has banned flights to Iraq to block trips by Iranians to the neighbouring country for the annual pilgrimage of Arbaeen, which draws large crowds. Land borders to Iraq have also been closed.
After stopping flights to Turkey, Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said on Monday that one flight per day would be allowed in each direction.
The pandemic has also badly hit Iran’s struggling economy, already crippled by United States economic sanctions imposed over the country’s nuclear programme.