Hospitals in many Iranian provinces are running out of capacity to handle COVID-19 cases, health authorities say, with novel coronavirus now killing around 300 people a day or one person every five minutes.
Authorities have complained of poor social distancing, and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said the pandemic could cause 600 daily deaths in coming weeks if Iranians failed to respect health protocols in the Middle East's hardest-affected country.
A caption that ran on state television news said an Iranian died of novel coronavirus every five minutes, a rate that corresponds to daily death tallies reported by the authorities of just above or below 300 over the past 20 days.
Health Ministry spokesman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV on Sunday that 32,616 people had died of the disease and the number of confirmed cases had reached 568,896.
Some experts have doubted the accuracy of Iran's official coronavirus tolls. A report by the Iranian parliament's research centre in April suggested that the coronavirus tolls might be almost twice as many as those announced by the health ministry.
The report said that Iran's official coronavirus figures were based only on the number of deaths in hospitals and those who had already tested positive for the coronavirus.
Schools, mosques, shops, restaurants and other public institutions in Tehran have been closed since Oct. 3. As COVID-19 cases and deaths continued to hit record levels, the closure was extended until Nov. 20, state TV reported.
Officials said "extreme measures and limitations" will be imposed in at least 43 counties across the country for one week, where the infection rates have been alarming. TV reported that 21 one of Iran's 31 provinces were on a coronavirus red alert.
Iran has blamed U.S. sanctions for hampering Tehran's efforts to tackle the outbreak. Washington, accusing Iran of "incompetent and deadly governance", has refused to lift sanctions that were reimposed after 2018 when Trump exited Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with six powers.