DUBAI, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Iran extended COVID-19 curbs in Tehran and across the country on Monday as health authorities said they were recording a death from the virus every four minutes.

Some hospitals had run out of beds to treat new patients, the head of the national coronavirus task-force told state TV. “Our doctors and nurses are tired. I urge everyone to respect the protocols,” Alireza Zali said.

The health ministry in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country reported 337 new deaths and 5,960 new cases over the past 24 hours. A banner on state TV said that amounted to a death every four minutes.

Authorities have complained of poor social distancing, and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said last week the death count could soon rise to 600 a day if Iranians fail to respect health protocols.

The closure of schools, mosques, shops, restaurants and other public institutions in Tehran, that was due to end on Monday, would now be extended until Nov. 20, state TV reported.

“Extreme measures and limitations” will be imposed for one week in at least 43 counties where the infection rates have been alarming, the TV report added, citing officials. It added that 21 one of Iran’s 31 provinces were on a coronavirus red alert.

Tehran has blamed U.S. sanctions for hampering its efforts to tackle the outbreak. Washington, accusing Iran of “incompetent and deadly governance”, has refused to lift sanctions that were reimposed after 2018 when Trump exited Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers.

Monday’s data took Iran’s total death toll to 32,953 and the number of identified cases to 574,856, Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said.

Some experts have doubted the accuracy of Iran’s official coronavirus tolls. A report by the Iranian parliament’s research centre in April suggested that the coronavirus tolls might be almost twice as many as those announced by the ministry.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Heavens)

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