Iran's daily COVID-19 deaths hit record high of 655

DUBAI, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Iran on Monday reported a record 655 COVID-19 deaths over the past 24 hours as the government started imposing tougher restrictions to combat a surge in coronavirus infections led by the highly contagious Delta variant, state TV reported.

The health ministry said the total number of cases had reached 4,467,015 with 41,194 new cases in the past 24 hours, while total fatalities had increased to 98,483, state TV reported.

All non-essential businesses and public offices across the Middle East's worst-hit country will be closed until Aug. 21, state TV said.

Authorities have also imposed a travel ban between all Iranian cities from Sunday until Aug. 27, except for essential vehicles.

Health authorities have warned that daily deaths might reach 800 in coming weeks if Iranians fail to respect health protocols.

The sharp surge in cases and deaths has forced the clerical establishment to allow imports of vaccines made by U.S. and British companies, which Iran's top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had forbidden in January.

A health ministry official, Kianoush Jahanpour, said there was no ban on importing any approved COVID-19 vaccines into Iran "including AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer, other than those produced in the U.S. and the UK", Iranian media reported on Sunday.

Social media users, inside and outside Iran, have accused the government of being slow to vaccinate people, with only over 4% of the 83 million population fully inoculated. Officials have blamed U.S. sanctions for hampering efforts to buy foreign vaccines and for delays in deliveries.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Alex Richardson

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