İrem UZUN -TDO- Iran vowed Monday to protect its people from the economic impact of the novel coronavirus as the official death toll in the Middle East's worst-hit country passed 4,500. During his televised news conference, government stressed the importance of striking a balance between the measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus and getting the economy back on track.

The objective was to protect "the health and lives of the population from the coronavirus and its economic and social consequences", said government spokesman Ali Rabiei. "Intelligent (social) distancing has the same objective... We must ensure the health of society while preserving the social and economic life of the country... The priority will always be given to health policies," he told in news conference.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani has struggled to contain the outbreak since it announced the country's first COVID-19 cases nearly two months ago. It shut schools and universities, postponed major events and imposed a range of other restrictions, but it has stopped short of ordering lockdowns. Last week, Rouhani announced that "low-risk" businesses would be allowed to reopen in order to protect Iran's sanctions-hit economy. The move took effect on Saturday outside Tehran and it is set to be implemented in the capital a week later.

The health ministry on Monday announced another 111 coronavirus deaths and 1,617 new infections, bringing the official totals to 4,585 and 73,303, respectively. However, ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the number of coronavirus infections was stabilizing and that 45,983 patients had recovered. Due to the lack of transparency in data sharing about the cases, there has been speculations that the real death toll from the disease in the Islamic Republic could be higher than it is announced.

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