TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran’s health minister appealed on Tuesday for more public and government support to enforce restrictions aimed at stemming a third major outbreak of coronavirus infections as new cases set a daily record of 5,039.
"Everyone should know that I, as health minister, cannot bring this epidemic situation under control alone, and a lot more (help) is required,” Saeed Namaki said in remarks quoted by the semi-official news agency ISNA.
"It was announced that anyone without a mask would be fined, but I saw...that 40% of the people on the bus did not wear masks. Can an infection be controlled in this way?” Namaki said.
Mask-wearing became mandatory in public in Tehran, capital of the country hardest hit by COVID-19 in the Middle East, on Oct. 10 and officials said violators would be fined.
"At the (coronavirus) taskforce, we demanded that anyone who did not wear a mask be fined, but...how many have been fined? We said close roads, but how many have they closed?” Namaki said, accusing government bodies of a lack of cooperation.
Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said that 322 people had died from the disease in the previous 24 hours, after a record death toll of 337 set on Monday.
The latest figures brought the official death toll to 31,034, and pushed the national total of cases to 539,670 since the start of the global pandemic in February.
Government spokesman Ali Rabii told a press conference that "the spread of the virus is rising in 12 provinces including Tehran, and nine provinces are on alert”, urging "cooperation” to curb its transmission.
President Hassan Rouhani said Monday that the country was now "facing a larger wave of this virus” and called on the health ministry to increase daily testing.
Hospitals in the hard-hit capital of Tehran are overflowing. Last week, health officials announced that the city had run out of intensive care beds for virus patients.
Also on Tuesday, Hamidreza Azizi, deputy head of Iran’s nurses’ organization, announced that 31,000 nurses have been infected with the coronavirus in the country, with 6,000 currently sick and staying home from work and 54 confirmed dead, according to IRNA news agency.
He said the organization would deploy over 7,600 more nurses to compensate for dire staff shortages across the country’s hospitals.
The increase comes after Iranians packed cafes and restaurants at vacation spots during recent national holidays, and after schools reopened for in-person instruction last month.
The government has resisted a total lockdown because it does not want to further weaken an economy already devastated by unprecedented U.S. sanctions. The Trump administration re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran after withdrawing in 2018 from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers.
With the death toll rising, authorities are now starting to impose more restrictions. The government closed museums, libraries, beauty salons, schools and universities in Tehran earlier this month, and imposed a mask mandate outdoors.