Coronavirus: Iran sets new record for deaths amid 'third wave'

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The wearing of face masks will be mandatory in Tehran from Saturday

Iran has reported a record daily number of new coronavirus deaths, as it struggles with what officials have called a "third wave" of its outbreak.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said 239 people with Covid-19 had died in the past 24 hours, bringing the total since February to 27,658.

She added that the number of confirmed cases had risen by 4,019 to 483,844.

Iran, one of the hardest hit countries in the Middle East, has seen a spike in new infections in recent weeks.

More than 3,500 new cases have been reported on each of the past nine days, while Monday's death toll of 235 equalled the previous record set in late July.

Twenty-seven of the country's 31 provinces are considered to be "red" zones where infections are on the rise, but the situation in the capital Tehran and its suburbs has been described as "critical".

Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said on Tuesday that Tehran's hospitals were treating almost 5,800 Covid-19 patients, 948 of whom were in intensive care units.

Mr Harirchi warned of the exhaustion of healthcare workers and medical supplies as the situation worsened in the city and other parts of the country.

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Hospitals in the capital are reportedly running close to capacity

In an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, authorities in Tehran have announced that wearing a face mask will become mandatory for its 10 million residents from Saturday.

Last Saturday, they ordered the week-long closure of schools, universities, libraries, mosques, cinemas and other public institutions in the capital.

Iran has also sought to prevent Shia Muslim pilgrims travelling to Iraq for Thursday's Arbaeen processions, which mark the end of a 40-day mourning period for the Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Officials have blamed the virus's resurgence on the failure of people to abide by health measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.

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Mosques and other public institutions in Tehran have been closed since Saturday

President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that anyone concealing a Covid-19 infection and failing to self-quarantine for 14 days should face "the highest punishment".

He added that government employees who repeatedly failed to observe regulations could be suspended for one year, and that business could be closed down if they failed to follow rules.

Iran suffered the first major outbreak in the Middle East after reporting its first deaths in mid-February. However, experts have expressed concern that the government withheld its true scale.

BBC Persian found that leaked government records showed almost 42,000 people with Covid-19 symptoms had died up to 20 July, versus 14,405 reported by the health ministry. The number of people known to be infected was also almost double the ministry's figures.

Iran's government has repeatedly denied accusations of a cover-up.