DUBAI, Sept 21 (Reuters) – The number of novel coronavirus infections in Iran has risen by 3,341 in the past 24 hours, the highest daily tally since early June, taking total cases to 425,481, the health ministry spokeswoman told state TV on Monday.

Sima Sadat Lari said 177 people had died in the past day, pushing the official death toll to 24,478 in Iran, one of the hardest hit countries in the Middle East.

Iran‘s deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said last week that the whole country was on coronavirus red alert as daily deaths and cases increased at an alarming rate.

Iranian health officials have warned about a third wave of the pandemic, while the government has blamed the spike in infections partly on a decline in public adherence to health protocols.

Iran‘s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a televised speech on Monday, praised Iranians for their sacrifices in fighting the disease and urged the nation to further respect social distancing and wear face masks.

Despite concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, schools re-opened on Sept. 5 for 15 million students, although the education ministry said later that attending classes was not compulsory for children.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans and Ed Osmond)