At least 216 more coronavirus fatalities have raised the nationwide death toll in Iran to 16,982, the Health Ministry said on Saturday.

A further 2,548 people tested positive for COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, raising the overall case count to 306,752, according to Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari.

She said more than 265,830 patients have recovered so far, while 4,011 remain hospitalized in critical condition.

Over 2.48 million tests have been conducted in Iran to date, Lari added.

The surge in daily fatalities seen this month has increased fears of a collapse of Iran’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

Iran was one of the first countries in the region where the virus spread, with its first two COVID-19 deaths reported in the city of Qom, 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of the capital Tehran, on Feb. 19.

In the first wave of the outbreak, single-day fatalities peaked at 158 on April 4, before dropping to their lowest – 34 – on May 25.

After a remarkable improvement in June that prompted authorities to ease the lockdown, daily cases and deaths have risen sharply in July.

The government has reimposed stringent measures, including making masks mandatory in public places, as part of efforts to curb the surge in infections.

* Writing by Zehra Nur Duz in Ankara.

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