Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said 35 million Iranians may contract the coronavirus as the country still did not have herd immunity although a quarter of the population may be infected.
“Our estimate is that up to now, 25 million Iranians have been infected with this virus,” Rouhani said during a televised meeting of the country’s virus-fighting task force on Saturday.
“We have to consider the possibility that 30 to 35 million more may face infection.”
It appears to be the first time a senior Iranian official has indicated the country is seeking to defeat COVID-19 via herd immunity.
“We have not yet achieved herd immunity and we have no choice but to be united and break the chain of transmission of the coronavirus,” he said, citing the results of a study by the Iranian health ministry.
Iran has been battling a resurgence of COVID-19, with figures showing a rise in both new infections and deaths since a two-month low in May.
Officially, the virus has so far killed close to 14,000 people and infected more than 269,400 in the country with a population of more than 80 million.
The rising toll has prompted authorities to reimpose restrictions in worst-hit provinces after being lifted countrywide in April, with Tehran extending them for an extra week on Friday.
Rouhani’s deputy head of communications, Alireza Moezi, said on Twitter hours later that the 25 million in fact refers to “those who have encountered the virus and achieved complete immunity”.
Rouhani also said Iran may have to prepare itself for double the number of hospitalisations it has had in the past five months, according to the health ministry’s study.
The ministry does not report the overall number of hospitalisations over COVID-19.
Iran has been struggling to contain the Middle East’s worst virus outbreak since announcing its first cases in mid-February.
The country has refrained from imposing full lockdowns but closed schools, cancelled public gatherings and banned travel between provinces in March, before lifting the restrictions the next month to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.
The virus has killed more than 602,000 people and infected nearly 14 million around the world as of Friday since first being detected in China late last year.