TEHRAN/JEDDAH: Iran’s daily coronavirus death toll was more than 100 on Sunday for the first time in two months, confirming the feared “second wave” of infections.
There were 107 deaths in 24 hours, taking the total to 8,837. The total number of cases has reached 187,427.
“Today, it was very painful for us to announce a triple-digit statistic,” Health Ministry spokesman Sima Sadat Lari said. “This is an unpredictable and wild virus and may surprise us at any time.”
Iran was slow to react to the virus pandemic and has struggled to contain what has become the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak. Even after the first cases were reported in February, clerics encouraged pilgrims to visit holy sites in Qom and Mashhad. As a result, returning visitors spread coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to other countries, mainly Iraq and Lebanon.
Since April, Iran has gradually lifted restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus to ease pressure on an economy already collapsing under US sanctions.
Official figures have shown a rising trajectory in new confirmed cases since early May, when Iran hit a near two-month low in daily recorded infections. But few observers either inside or outside Iran believe that the real toll is much higher.
Seven of Iran’s 31 provinces are currently classified as “red,” the highest level on the country’s color-coded risk scale. President Hassan Rouhani said it was “disturbing” that only “18 to 20 percent of people” observed health protocols and social distancing, down from 80 percent or more between April 20 and May 20.
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Saudi health authorities on Sunday urged everyone to comply with measures to prevent the spread of the virus as the daily count of cases rose above 4,000 for the first time.
The Health Ministry reported 4,233 new cases to bring the total to 127,541, and the death toll rose by 40 to 972, the highest among the six Gulf states. More than 1,700 of the new infections were in Riyadh.
“There are two paths before us. The average infection rate could rise if people continue not to comply, or we could bring the rate back down,” Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said.
“We will intervene or apply additional measures in any region that requires that.”
Worldwide, the virus has infected nearly 8 million people and killed more than 430,000.
There were also fears on Sunday of a second wave of infections in China, where the pandemic began at the end of last year, after the country reported its highest daily number of new cases in months.
Of the 57 new cases logged by Chinese authorities, 36 were domestic infections in Beijing linked to a wholesale food market. Beijing has raced to quash the new outbreak, carrying out mass testing, issuing travel warnings, closing the market, deploying paramilitary police and putting nearby housing estates under lockdown. More than 10,000 have already been tested in the area, with another eight cases diagnosed on Sunday.
There have also been two new outbreaks in Italy, which at one time was the world’s most affected country but has since moved to lift its lockdown.
“No one had any illusions that the problems were over,” World Health Organization deputy director Ranieri Guerra said. “The virus hasn’t lost its infectiousness, it isn’t weakening.”