Coronavirus has claimed 145 lives from among 5823 Iranians who have been infected by the COVID-19 virus, the spokesman for Iran's Ministry of Health said Saturday afternoon Mach 7.
The spokesman, Kianush Jahanpur, added however that some 16,000 suspected cases are being taken care of at hospitals in major Iranian cities. This means that many people have not yet been tested or the test results are delayed. He added that 1,669 patients have been discharged from hospitals after recovery.
In some areas, 40 percent of those hospitalized have recovered, the official claimed. The media in Iran and outside the country as well as some of the members of Iran’s Parliament have challenged the numbers released by the government about the extent of the outbreak and some claim the real figures are at least three times higher.
Jahanpur revealed on Saturday that the situation is critical in Mazandaran Province in northern Iran as the number of those with the virus in this province has exceeded 600 during the past day. He called it the third "worst hit" province after Tehran and Qom with 1,539 and 686 patients respectively.
The latest figures put the number of those in hospital in Gilan at 494 and those in Isfahan at 484. However, most patients diagnosed with the virus are quarantined at their homes and only those in serious need of intensive care are sent to hospitals.
Monitoring and disease control posts have been set up at the borders between Mazandaran and the neighboring Gilan Province which is also one of the worst affected Iranian provinces.
Health authorities have said that the contagion in Gilan and Mazandaran is partly due to the fact that many people from Qom and Tehran have travelled to these provinces which are usually popular tourist destinations in Iran.
The news about the critical situation in Mazandaran province on Saturday coincided with local officials in Yazd Province declaring an "emergency situation."
Meanwhile, the health ministry spokesman added that the number of Coronavirus test centers in Iran has increased to 30 and this has shortened the time for test results. Until last week, all tests were sent to a lab in Tehran, but now most provinces seem to have been better equipped as far as testing is concerned.
He added that setting up 20 more test centers is on the Health Ministry's agenda for the coming days in order to further shorten the time interval between testing and diagnosis.
Based on the latest official statistics announced on Saturday Iran is now the third worst hit country after China and Italy.
The most recent death toll includes a member of the parliament, Fatemeh Rahbar, and a former diplomat, Hossein Sheikholeslam. Two members of the Iranian parliament have died of Coronavirus while 23 are diagnosed with the virus.
Earlier this week, Gholam Ali Jafarzadeh Imanabadi, an MP for Rasht in Gilan Province, said that the figures released by cemeteries in various cities are indicative of a "horrific" death toll.
Meanwhile, prominent MP Massoud Pezeshkian told reporters that the figures given away by Health Ministry officials are not "real".
The controversy surrounding the government's attempts to play down the crisis has claimed at least one casualty as Health Minister Saeed Namaki reportedly fired Dr. Mehdi Shadnoush, his "plenipotentiary representative for virus control" in Gilan Province after Shadnoush described the situation of hospitals in the province as "dreadful".
Currently 13 Iranian provinces are controlling arrivals and departures in a bid to boost virus control.
In the meantime, one of the most recurrent themes on Iranian social media is the shortage of preventive equipment including masks, detergents and hand gel. Masks in particular are scarce and are sold for up to 400,000 rials (roughly 10 dollars) each at the official exchange rate.