Iran has declared a coronavirus red alert due to a third wave of infections, with thousands more deaths likely to follow in the Middle East’s worst affected country.
The red alert will cover the entire country, according to Iranian state media reports, as the death toll rose on Friday by 144 to 23,952 and the total number of cases exceeded 400,000.
Iranian officials have carved up the country into white, orange and red areas based on the number of infections and deaths.
But the country’s deputy health minister said the system was now redundant as “the entire country is red.”
"The colour classification doesn't make sense anymore,” Iraj Harirchi said on an Iranian television programme. "If the current course continues, the death toll will reach 45,000," he added.
According to Reuters news agency, in the northwestern city of Tabriz, the number of hospitalised patients has risen from under 40 per day to 160.
And in the Shia Muslim holy city of Qom, it has increased from ten a day to 160.
Mr Harirchi said that if 95 per cent of the country wore masks and the number of gatherings fell by half then the severe death toll could be reduced.
It comes after leaked documents revealed that the number of deaths from coronavirus in Iran was at least triple the figure reported by the authorities.
The papers, obtained by BBC Persian, showed that an even more severe third wave of the virus was underway.
Even by the government’s public figures, Iran is the worst affected country in the Middle East.
Iran formally reported its first coronavirus case in mid-February, with the deaths of two people in Qom, though health workers and Iranian journalists had given earlier warnings about the illness.
Since then, Iran has been accused of deliberately underreporting infections.
“Everyone knew that the number of Covid cases was significantly higher than what officials were reporting,” an Iranian journalist in Tehran told The Telegraph earlier this month.
Iran has also struggled under crippling US sanctions targeting the regime’s leadership, which even before the pandemic had led to severe medicine shortage.