Iran health minister warns of stronger coronavirus wave if people ignore curbs

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Iran could face a second, stronger wave of novel coronavirus infections if people ignore guidance and social distancing rules, health minister Saeed Namaki said on Monday.

The Islamic Republic, one of the worst-hit countries in the region, started easing its lockdown in April after a drop in deaths.

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But May saw an uptick in the rate of reported infections compared with mid to late April -- an acceleration the government put down to increased testing.

“The outbreak is not over yet and at any moment it may come back stronger than before,” Saeed Namaki said in a news conference broadcast on state TV.

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“People seem to think the coronavirus is over... some officials also believe everything” is back to normal, the minister said.

“If our people fail to respect the health protocols ... we must prepare ourselves for the worst situation.”

Iran has reported a total of 154,445 infections as of Monday, an increase of 2,979 from the previous day.

It also reported 81 new deaths, taking the toll to 7,878.

Government employees went back to work and mosques resumed daily prayers on Saturday as part of the relaxation of the lockdown.

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But authorities had to reimpose restrictions in the southern provinces of Khuzestan and Sistan Baluchestan in mid-May after an uptick of cases there.

“There is still a long way ahead of us in our fight against this virus ... All the health protocols should be respected,” Namaki said.

According to Namaki, the provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan, Kermanshah, and Hormozgan are currently struggling with surges in infections.

The minister added that half Iran’s fatalities for the past day were recorded in three provinces, without naming them.

“If this continues, deaths can reach three digits again.”

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Health officials have repeatedly raised the alarm for Khuzestan province on Iran’s southwestern border with Iraq.

Khuzestan remains “red”, the highest level on Iran’s color-coded risk scale, and is the only province where the government has reimposed a lockdown.

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“We pleaded with the people to not hold weddings or funerals but they did not listen” especially in Khuzestan, said Namaki.

Infections have been on a rising trajectory in the Islamic republic since hitting a near two-month low on May 2.

Experts both at home and abroad have voiced skepticism about Iran’s official figures, saying the real toll could be much higher.

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