Iran said Friday that coronavirus has killed 149 more people in the Islamic republic, raising the country's official death toll from the disease to 1,433.
Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raeesi said 1,237 more cases have been confirmed over the past 24 hours and 19,644 people are now known to have been infected in Iran, one of the world's worst-hit countries.
Radio Farda’s independent estimate put the number of infections at close to 40,000 infections and more than 1,800 deaths as of March 18. The estimate was based on tracking media reports in Iran and announcements by local officials.
The latest figures come as Iranians celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year which ushers in a two-week holiday during which Iran's roads are normally filled with people visiting family.
The authorities had urged the public to avoid family visits or days out this year to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
But footage aired by state television showed hundreds of vehicles pouring out of Tehran on Thursday evening.
Remote sensors installed at tollbooths checked the body temperatures of motorists and their passengers, but there was no mass stay-home as called for by the authorities.
Raeesi defended Iran's reluctance to resort to the sort of "coercive powers" granted to police in France and Italy to force people off the streets.
He said checkpoints had been set up around major cities to test suspected cases and that those found positive were being sent home to self-quarantine.
That contrasted with earlier guidance from the government which had said that anyone suspected of having COVID-19 would be quarantined.
Iran’s reluctance to seal off coronavirus hotspots initially led to the quick spread of the virus to all corners of the country. It seems the government does not want to further slow-down an economy hit hard by sanctions and lack of revenues.
In holiday messages broadcast on Friday, both supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani promised that Iran would overcome the outbreak.