Tehran (AFP) - Iran's health ministry said Sunday a surge in new reported coronavirus infections was due to increased testing rather than a worsening outbreak.
After hitting a near two-month low in early May and a lifting of tough movement restrictions, cases of the COVID-19 illness have been rising in Islamic republic which is battling the Middle East's deadliest outbreak of the disease.
"The main reason for rising numbers is that we started identifying (infected people) with no or light symptoms," said Mohammad-Mehdi Gouya, the health ministry's head epidemiologist.
He added that the gradual easing of lockdown measures had also contributed to higher infections "which has more or less happened all over the world," ISNA news agency reported.
Authorities have progressively lifted restrictions imposed to tackle the virus, and activity has almost returned to normal in most of the country's 31 provinces.
Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the situation had steadily improved with fewer hospitalisations, critical cases and deaths.
"It is only normal for infections to slightly grow after reopenings," he said in televised remarks Sunday.
He confirmed 2,364 new infections in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 171,789.
Yet 2,596 of total patients hospitalised were in "critical" condition on Sunday, with the number seemingly on a rising trajectory since Thursday, when Iran reported record high daily infections.
Jahanpour noted that 72 more people had died in the same period, raising the overall toll to 8,281.
There has been scepticism at home and abroad about Iran's official figures, with concerns the real toll could be much higher.
Rising infection figuress since a low in early May and lax observance of social distancing have worried authorities, which have reiterated calls for strict adherence to health protocols.