(Reuters) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that 25 million Iranians have been infected with the coronavirus and that another 35 million are at risk of acquiring it.

The figures, which Rouhani said were based on a new Health Ministry report, are far higher Iran’s official toll of 269,440 infected. Rouhani in a televised speech did not address the discrepancy.

At Masih Daneshvari Hospital, which is one of the main treatment centers for Covid-19 in Tehran, there are no more beds available and patients are being set up in the parking garage, either in chairs or in their cars. (Photo taken on July 6 by Mohammad Masoumian.)

Iran, with a population of more than 80 million, has been the Middle East country hardest hit by the epidemic.

“Our estimate is that as of now 25 million Iranians have been infected with this virus and about 14,000 have lost their dear lives,” Rouhani said in the speech.

“There is the possibility that between 30 and 35 million other people will be at risk,” he said.

At Masih Daneshvari Hospital, which is one of the main treatment centers for Covid-19 in Tehran, there are no more beds available and patients are being set up in the parking garage, either in chairs or in their cars. (Photo taken on July 6 by Mohammad Masoumian.)

“In total, more than 200,000 people have been hospitalized,” he said.

The Health Ministry on Friday said 13,791 people had died from COVID-19.

Editing by Jason Neely

Additional reporting

Sina (not his real name) is a doctor in a hospital in northern Iran. He says that they still had empty beds a month ago but that is no longer the case. His hospital has had to turn away sick people and send them to other hospitals, which are sometimes dozens of kilometres away because all of the nearby hospitals are as equally overwhelmed.

Two months ago, we had 1,500 patients in our hospital. Three weeks ago, the number dropped down to 500, but since then, the numbers have continued to climb. Currently, we have about 1,100 patients that have tested positive for Covid-19. Before, we were seeing four deaths a day. Now, we are seeing more than 20. Our intensive care unit hasn’t had a free bed for the past 10 days.

The symptoms of Covid-19 that we are seeing have changed. During the first three months of the pandemic, we mainly saw people in respiratory distress. Now, the main symptoms we see are gastro-intestinal.

For me, the government bears the most responsibility for this situation. They encouraged people to return to work too quickly. They didn’t put in place any policies to contain the new pandemic. They could have made it mandatory to wear a mask, opened up step by step and banned travel to and from red zones. But they didn’t do any of that. They just wanted to convince everyone that things were back to normal.

In my opinion, what we need is at least a month of total lockdown across the whole country and not just the most affected regions. It needs to be mandatory for everyone to wear a mask every time they go out. 

Hospital directors and managers of cemeteries have been speaking to local media and expressing alarm at the rising number of deaths for several weeks.On social media, all anyone is talking about is the second wave.

But it wasn’t until July 2 that the Iranian president Hassan Rohani finally addressed the issue. He said the government “would consider” putting in place “rules and restrictions” in the red zones to try to contain the spread of Covid-19. But, for the time being, no concrete measures have been taken.

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