May 4, 2020 / 10:08 AM / 24 days ago

Iran's coronavirus death toll rises by 74 as mosques due to reopen

(Reuters) - The coronavirus death toll in Iran, one of the hardest-hit countries in the Middle East, rose by 74 in the past 24 hours to 6,277, the Health Ministry said on Monday, as mosques were due to reopen in many cities.

The total number of diagnosed cases rose to 98,647, ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said in a statement on state TV. The daily death toll has stayed below 100 since mid-April.

Iran was due to open mosques in 132 cities and towns on Monday, President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday, part of a broader plan to ease restrictions. It was not immediately clear how many reopened.

The 132 cities and towns were chosen because they were deemed low-risk and have not had new coronavirus infections or deaths for a period of time.

In the areas where mosques reopen, worshippers must maintain social distancing, wear masks and gloves and not stay for more than half an hour, the ISNA news agency reported on Monday.

Sports clubs will also open in 132 cities, Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Iran has already lifted a ban on inter-city trips and shopping in malls, with large shopping centres reopening despite warnings by some health officials of a new wave of infections.

Schools might also reopen in more than 130 counties, Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaei said, according to the ISNA news agency.

Final exams for high school seniors are expected to take place in person from June 6 unless the health ministry advises against them at the time, he said.

Seeking a balance between protecting public health and shielding an economy already battered by sanctions, the government has refrained from imposing the kind of wholesale lockdowns on cities seen in many other countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran that have crippled its economy. Under the deal, Iran agreed to halt its sensitive nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief.

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Nick Macfie

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