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Coronavirus Threat Rising In Iran As Restrictions Are Relaxed

The Iranian capital, Tehran, experienced heavy traffic on the first working day of the year despite the coronavirus crisis. April 4, 2020.

The Commander of Tehran Coronavirus Combat Taskforce on Thursday warned that adopting a more relaxed approach to social distancing and movement restrictions is sending the wrong message to people, making them believe that COVID-19 has come under control while fatalities are on the increase again.

More than 6,300 people visited hospitals and about 400 were hospitalized in Tehran alone on Wednesday, Alireza Zali said and added that the number of new cases is growing again.

Health officials in some other Iranian provinces including Azarbaijan, Mazandaran and Khuzestan have also expressed concern over a second wave of COVID-19 in the coming days due to the cancellation of movement restrictions between provinces and in cities.

Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi on Sunday said the number of new cases is going down in most provinces and in the country as a whole but he has also warned that even in countries that appear to be clear from the epidemic now -- presumably China -- second and third peaks of coronavirus infections and deaths are possible.

Since Wednesday Iran has opened parks, shopping arcades and malls to the public again and businesses considered as low-risk have been allowed to resume since April 12 to implement what the government calls "intelligent social distancing". Traveling between cities in the same province were allowed on April 13 and from province to province since Monday.

Video showing people in Tehran ignoring social distancing.

The decision has been criticized by lawmakers and others but President Hassan Rouhani says the continuation of strict social distancing and keeping businesses closed has been hurting too many people financially.

On Saturday Ali Rabiei, the government spokesman, said coronavirus has affected 7.3 million workers. According to Rabiei 4 million of these workers are not officially employed which puts them at greater risk of losing their jobs or a reduction in their wages.

According to the latest official statement by the Health Ministry on Thursday, since February 19 nearly 5,500 have died of COVID-19 in Iran and more than 87,000 have tested positive for coronavirus. Iran's Health Ministry bases its numbers for COVID-19 deaths and infections solely on positive test results so the real numbers may be much higher.