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Iran records its highest daily death toll from coronavirus

At least 272 deaths and more than 4,200 new cases were reported on Monday, as country grapples with its third wave of infections, health ministry says
Masks are now mandated even in outdoor areas of Tehran as the country struggles to contain the virus (AFP/File photo)

For the second day in a row, Iran shattered its single-day record for new coronavirus deaths and infections, with 272 people confirmed dead and more than 4,200 new cases.

In total, Iran - which has a population of around 82 million - has seen 504,281 cases and 28,816 deaths caused by the novel virus, according to the country's health ministry which has been providing near-daily updates

With cases on the rise across the country this month, authorities forced recently reopened universities and schools, mosques, cinemas, museums and beauty salons to close their doors. 

On Saturday, the government mandated that all residents of Tehran, the hardest-hit region, wear face masks outdoors and in public places, warning violators would be fined. 

Still, the government has had a hard time enforcing restrictions. On Sunday, Iran's health minister Saeed Namaki made an appeal for harsher punishments, the Associated Press reported. Currently, violators of the mask mandate are slapped with fines of 500,000 rials, around $11. 

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Namaki told state-run IRNA news agency that current fines for those breaking mask protocols are doing nothing to boost vigilance. 

He also said that the ministry's 7,000 inspectors couldn't handle policing Tehran's 10 million-plus residents and that he had brought in the Basij forces, a paramilitary wing of the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), to help enforce pandemic rules. 

While neighbouring countries have relied on curfews or total lockdowns during periods of upticks, Iran's government has been hesitant to restrict business again out of concern for its economy which has been devastated by US sanctions. 

The Iranian currency hit a new low against the US dollar this weekend, with the economy buckling under pressure from both the pandemic and sanctions. The currency has lost about 56 percent of its value in 2020. 

Last week, the US slapped fresh sanctions on Iran's financial sector, targeting 18 banks to further choke off Iranian revenues as Washington ramps up pressure on Tehran weeks ahead of the US election. The sanctions also target non-Iranian institutions that trade with the banks.

At the time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the US of wanting to "blow up our remaining channels to pay for food & medicine".

Analysts said the sanctions may further deter European and other foreign banks from working with Iran, even for permitted humanitarian transactions.