A cleric prays outside the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Iran's holy city of Qom (AFP Photo/MEHDI MARIZAD)

Iran announced a further relaxation of coronavirus lockdown measures on Saturday and said it has started to control the outbreak in nearly a third of its provinces.

The Islamic republic has battled the Middle East’s most deadly coronavirus outbreak since February 19, when it announced its first two deaths.

Ten out of Iran’s 31 provinces are now in the virus “containment stage”, said President Hassan Rouhani in a televised virus taskforce meeting.

The stage calls for intensified screening to “separate those infected from others”, he added, claiming the ratio of deaths to infections has dropped steadily across Iran.

Rouhani said museums and historical sites across Iran will reopen to the public on Sunday and holy shrines the following day.

He had last week announced the limited reopening of holy sites after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and is to start Sunday.

The shrines would be open for only six hours a day while observing health protocols, he said at the time.

Iran in mid-March closed four key Shiite shrines including Imam Reza in Mashhad, Fatima Masumeh and Jamkaran mosque in Qom and Shah Abdol-Azim in Tehran.

Rouhani added that all government employees working from home must return to their offices on May 30.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 1,869 new positive tests for coronavirus in the past 24 hours had raised the country’s tally to 133,521.

Jahanpour also raised the death toll to 7,359, with 59 new deaths over the same period.

Ten provinces had declared no new deaths, while six reported one fatality each.

According to Rouhani, 88 percent of Iran’s COVID-19 victims were those with underlying health issues.

Experts inside and outside Iran have cast doubt on the country’s official figures, and say the real toll could be much higher.


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