TEHRAN: Iran on Monday (May 18) said it was entering a new phase of trying to eliminate the novel coronavirus after bringing the Middle East's deadliest outbreak under control in many regions.
"Reports show we have passed the management and control phase and are now in the phase of curbing" the spread of COVID-19, government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a televised news conference.
But even as Rabiei gave the upbeat assessment in Iran's three-month struggle against the illness, the health ministry announced nearly 2,300 new infections - the highest official single-day number since Apr 5.
Rabiei defended the Iranian government's decision to reopen businesses in recent weeks.
"We can have fewer deaths, keep people's daily lives in motion and not cripple the economy even when the coronavirus exists," he said.
Iran, he said, now had 280 "white" counties - the lowest level on the country's colour-coded risk scale - out of its 434.
Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said meanwhile that 2,294 new infections were confirmed in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 122,492.
Jahanpour added that 1,760 of the new cases were outpatients and people who had been in close contact with those infected.
More than 95,600 of those hospitalised with the virus had recovered and been discharged.
Rabiei said that put Iran "in third global place in recoveries after China and Switzerland" with "a recovery rate of almost 94 per cent".
The health ministry raised the virus death toll to 7,057, with 69 fatalities in the past day.
Experts both at home and abroad have voiced scepticism about Iran's official figures, saying the real toll could be much higher.
Jahanpour said the situation was becoming critical in the provinces of Lorestan, North Khorasan, Kerman, Sistan and Baluchistan, and Kermanshah.
Khuzestan, which is still in the high-risk "red" category, accounted for about a quarter of the new cases detected in the past 24 hours, he added.
The southwestern province has become Iran's new coronavirus hotspot and is the only region so far where authorities have reimposed business lockdowns after a country-wide relaxation in April.