As many as 189 new coronavirus-related fatalities have raised the death toll in Iran to 18,616, the Health Ministry said Monday.

A total of 2,132 people tested positive for COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, pushing the tally to 328,844, according to ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari.

She said more than 286,642 patients have recovered so far, while 3,992 are hospitalized in critical condition. Over 2.71 million tests have been conducted in Iran to date.

Despite the rising number of infections and virus-linked deaths, President Hassan Rouhani has allowed mourning processions during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar.

“We must take a moderate path because it is not possible to continue the severe restrictions, and we cannot completely shut down economic, educational and cultural activities,” he told a virus task force meeting on Sunday. “We have no choice but to have activities, but also to follow the health protocols completely.”

Believers commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, until the 10th day of Muharram, known as Ashura.

Iran is struggling to contain the pandemic since February when the first cases were confirmed in the holy city of Qom.

Restrictions aimed at stemming the outbreak were gradually eased amid concerns over the economy, which is already under immense pressure due to the US sanctions imposed after Washington exited the landmark 2015 nuclear deal Tehran had signed with six world powers.

*Writing by Zehra Nur Duz

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