(Reuters) - Iran reported 6,312 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, the lowest in nearly two months, but officials warned that the downward trend could easily be reversed and warned against too much social contact during the Yalda winter festivities.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 177 people had died in the past 24 hours, taking fatalities to 53,625 in the worst affected country in the Middle East. Sunday's caseload was the lowest since the 5,960 cases reported on Oct. 26.
“The most important cause of COVID-19 transmission in the country is due to family gatherings and parties,” said Lari, urging people to refrain from holding the traditional extended family gatherings Sunday night in celebration of Yalda — or winter solstice.
Shops were ordered to close two hours earlier, at 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and a traffic curfew was brought forward an hour to 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. in an effort to avert a resurgence during the festivities.
Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi said on Saturday that there had been a decline of 50% in daily coronavirus deaths since more stringent restrictions were imposed on Nov. 21 during a third peak of the virus.
However, officials have cautioned that the danger of resurgence looms large.
"The current coronavirus situation in the country is fragile. If people do not comply (with health protocols), we could witness a fourth peak," said senior Health Ministry official Iraj Harirchi.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meanwhile, speaking in a TV broadcast on Sunday, praised Iran’s nurses for their sacrifices in fighting the epidemic.
"Our nurses’ task has been more difficult during this coronavirus-inflicted year as they put their own lives at risk,” Khamenei said on the occasion of National Nurses Day in Iran, his second televised address since Wednesday.
Before this week, Khamenei had not been seen in public for weeks and rumours had surfaced in early December that his health was deteriorating.