The government of President Hassan Rouhani has struggled to contain the outbreak since it announced the country’s first COVID-19 cases nearly two months ago.
It shut schools and universities, postponed major events and imposed a range of other restrictions, but it has stopped short of ordering lockdowns.
The government stressed the importance of striking a balance between the measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus and getting the economy back on track.
The objective was to protect “the health and lives of the population from the coronavirus and its economic and social consequences”, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said at a televised news conference on Monday.
“Intelligent [social] distancing has the same objective … we must ensure the health of society while preserving the social and economic life” of the country, said Rabiei.
“The priority will always be given to health policies,” he said.
Iran’s rulers, who have been struggling to curb the spread of the disease, are concerned that measures to limit public activities could wreck an economy which has already been battered by US sanctions.
“We have to fight against the coronavirus and the virus of sanctions together,” Rabiei said.
Rouhani announced last week that “low-risk” businesses would be allowed to reopen in order to protect Iran’s sanctions-hit economy.
The move took effect on Saturday outside Tehran, and it is set to be implemented in the capital a week later.
Uptick in traffic
While the restrictions remain in place in Tehran, there has been a noticeable uptick in the flow of traffic in the city this working week.
On Monday, motorists drove past newly erected billboards paying tribute to doctors and nurses who have been on the front line of Iran’s COVID-19 battle.
State TV showed streets packed with people, crowded buses and subway cars in several cities as so-called low-risk businesses, including many shops and workshops, have reopened.
Businesses and services seen as high-risk, including theatres, swimming pools, saunas, beauty salons, schools, shopping centres and restaurants, have yet to reopen.
Some health officials and experts have warned the government about a second wave of COVID-19 that they said could hit Tehran hard.
The president on Monday cautioned against neglecting the containment measures.
“The implementation of health protocols should continue in a strong and forceful manner,” Rouhani said.
The health ministry on Monday announced another 111 coronavirus deaths and 1,617 new infections, bringing the official totals to 4,585 and 73,303, respectively.
But ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the number of coronavirus infections was stabilising and that 45,983 patients had recovered.
“The trend of relatively stable and decreasing new cases of contamination, which has been observed in recent days, has also continued over the past 24 hours,” Jahanpour said at a televised news conference.
“People must always continue to avoid unnecessary travel,” he said, in order to stop the spread of the virus.
Iran announced its first COVID-19 cases on February 19 – the deaths of two people in the Shia holy city of Qom.