Iran reported 216 new deaths from the novel coronavirus on Sunday, calling on its citizens to observe health protocols more closely to ease the burden on exhausted medical staff.

The Islamic republic announced its first COVID-19 cases on February 19, and the outbreak quickly became the Middle East’s deadliest.

Declared coronavirus deaths have surged since the end of June and claimed more than 200 lives nearly every day in the past week, including a record 229 on Tuesday.

“Our biggest concerns are the infection and fatigue of medical staff,” health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said in a televised briefing on Sunday.

“We can help them and prevent the spread of the disease” by observing basic guidelines such as hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing, she added.

Iran said earlier this month that 5,000 health workers had been infected with the novel coronavirus and 140 had lost their lives.

According to Lari, the 216 fatalities recorded in the past 24 hours brought to 15,700 the overall death toll in the country’s outbreak.

A further 2,333 new cases of infection were confirmed over the same period, she added, taking the total to 291,172.

The official said that 12 of Iran’s 31 provinces were classified as “red” and 13 were on “alert” or close to red.

Red is the highest category on the country’s coronavirus risk scale.

Authorities have made masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces and allowed the hardest-hit provinces, including Tehran, to reimpose restrictions that had been progressively lifted since April to reopen Iran’s sanctions-hit economy.

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