Iran's Ministry of Health announced on Thursday that the number of Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus has sharply increased.
The state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) cited the Ministry of Health's spokeswoman, Sima Sadat Lari, as referring to a "relative increase in the number of afflictions and hospitalizations in most of the provinces across the country."
"In the past week, the number of cities on red alert increased from 88 to 109, and the number of cities on alert status increased from ninety to 107," Sadat Lari saod.
It is not yet clear whether the increase can be attributed to the Shi'ites' annual Muharram ceremonies, held in mourning of their third Imam's death in 680 AD.
Weeks before Muharram ceremonies began, experts and Iranian officials were warning that coronavirus cases could increase following the ceremonies and into the fall.
In a separate report, Reza Nejati, the spokesman for the Coronavirus Management Headquarters in the province of Khuzestan, also disclosed that the deadly virus contamination was on the rise in the region, adding to the number of cities on red alert.
"If the current situation persists and intercity travels continue, all Khuzestan cities will definitely suffer from the deadly virus," Nejati said.
Nejati blamed the increase in cases on "some people's recklessness and disregarding official hygiene guidelines," adding that "a bitter development was underway" in the oil-rich province.
Without referring to Muharram's ceremonies and the mourners' disregard of hygiene protocols, Nejati criticized Iran not allowing citizens to participate in religious ceremonies, annually held in the city of Karbala, Iraq.
"Even if we allow Iranian pilgrims to commemorate Arba'een, the Iraqi authorities will not let them cross the borders," Nejati said.
As the coronavirus has progressed, officials at the Iranian Ministry of Health have issued daily reports of the number of people who have been infected by or died of the virus. Independent sources, however, have cast doubt over the accuracy of the state's data, with Iranian authorities continually refusing to provide statistics on the virus' spread in different cities and provinces across Iran.