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Iran again breaks its single-day record for virus deaths

(In this Oct. 15, 2020 file photo, people wear protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, in the Tajrish traditional bazaar in northern Tehran, Iran. On Monday, Oct.19, 2020, Iran recorded its worst day of new deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with 337 confirmed dead. AP Photo: Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

By AMIR VAHDAT, TEHRAN, Iran (AP):– Iran recorded its worst day of new deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with 337 confirmed dead on Monday.

The grim milestone represents a significant spike from the previous single-day death toll record of 279. The Health Ministry also announced 4,251 new infections, pushing the total count to 534,630.

Fatalities have soared in recent weeks, as authorities struggle to contain the virus’s spread months into the pandemic. Health officials say the capital, Tehran, has run out of intensive care beds.

The Islamic Republic emerged early in the pandemic as a global epicenter of the virus and has since seen the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with a death toll that topped 30,000 this week. The government has resisted a total lockdown to salvage its devastated economy, already weakened by unprecedented U.S. sanctions.

As the death toll skyrockets, eclipsing the previous highs recorded in the spring amid the worst of its outbreak, authorities have started to tighten restrictions. The government ordered shut recently reopened schools and universities, as well as museums, libraries, beauty salons and other public places in Tehran earlier this month, and imposed a mask mandate outdoors.

Underscoring authorities’ contradictory response, the current spike comes just weeks after schools nationwide welcomed back its 15 million students for in-person instruction.

The virus has also sickened senior Iranian officials, including an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and most recently the country’s atomic energy agency and its vice president in charge of budget and planning.

The timing of the pandemic has proved particularly difficult for Iran’s economy. The Trump administration re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran after its unilateral withdrawal in 2018 from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers. The nation’s currency plunged to its lowest-ever level last week following the U.S. administration’s decision last week to blacklist Iranian banks that had so far escaped the bulk of re-imposed American sanctions.

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