Iran’s health ministry on Sunday reported more than 680 daily Covid deaths for the first time, as nationwide restrictions to contain the spread of the virus were lifted. The ministry said the deaths of 684 people in the past 24 hours brought the total number of fatalities to 102,038. Iran also registered 36,419 new infections raising the total since the pandemic started to 4,677,114. Iranian health officials have acknowledged that the ministry’s figures understate the real toll but even they make Iran the worst-hit Middle Eastern country. Last week Iran tightened curbs to contain the spread of the virus. The six-day restrictive measures that ended on Saturday included the closure of government buildings, banks and non-essential shops. A nationwide ban on private car travel between provinces remains in force until August 27. At Tehran’s Tajrish Bazaar there were mixed feelings about the lifting of curbs. “Today I went and got my (Covid) vaccine and came shopping, because I was so mentally exhausted I could no longer stay home,” housewife Shamsisadat told AFP. But salesman Salman complained that although the market was closed for six days, authorities did not impose a ban on public gatherings. “With the market closed, people travelled” from one province to the other and interacted, he said. The tighter regulations coincided with the commemoration on Thursday of Ashura, that marks the death in 680 of Imam Hussein. During Ashura worshippers throng mosques and take part in processions to mourn their beloved religious figure killed in battle in Iraq. Imam Hussein’s death is the defining moment in the schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The restrictions did not apply to open-air mourning processions. Authorities have repeatedly blamed rising Covid numbers on “unnecessary travel” and citizens flouting health protocols. Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari on Sunday bemoaned the “extremely low” observation of health protocols even as curbs were in place. Iran has avoided imposing a full lockdown on its 83-million-strong population, instead resorting to piecemeal measures such as temporary travel bans and business closures. The country has seen since late June what officials have called a “fifth wave” of infections blamed mostly on the spread of the Delta variant. Daily deaths and infections have hit record highs several times this month. National coronavirus task-force spokesman Alireza Raisi meanwhile said Sunday that Iran would accelerate its vaccination drive. He said the Islamic republic is going to import 30 million doses of vaccine by late September and another 30 by November 21. Iran began offering jabs in February but the vaccination drive has progressed slower than authorities had planned. Choked by US sanctions that have made it difficult to transfer money abroad, Iran says it has struggled to import vaccines. More than 16.7 million people have been given a first vaccine dose, but only 5.8 million have received the second, the health ministry said Sunday.