Iranian health officials have tried to play down President Hassan Rohani's estimate that as many as 25 million Iranians could have been infected with the coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak.
Rohani on July 18 cited a new study by the Health Ministry in offering the unprecedentedly high number of 25 million coronavirus cases. Iran's population is around 81 million people.
"Our estimate is that until now 25 million Iranians have been infected with this virus and about 14,000 have lost their dear lives," Rohani said in his remarks.
A Health Ministry statement carried by Iranian media on July 19 said the figure given by the president was based on numbers produced by a deputy in the ministry.
The statement said the estimate was based on serological blood tests that measure exposure to the illness.
"It is not possible to rely on serological tests to diagnose the current state of the disease," the statement said.
Serological tests determine if a person has been exposed to a disease by showing their antibody response.
In the coronavirus pandemic, they have been used by countries to survey samples of the population and estimate overall infection rates -- whether or not people have had severe, mild, or no symptoms of COVID-19.
Iran has been hardest hit by the pandemic in the Middle East, with infections and deaths rising sharply since restrictions were eased, beginning in mid-April.
Official case numbers rose to 273,788 on July 19, with 14,188 deaths, Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said.
Authorities on July 18 reimposed one-week restrictions in the capital, Tehran, including banning religious and cultural functions, closing cafes, indoor pools, amusement parks and zoos, in an effort to contain the deadly pandemic.
In related news, Turkey has suspended flights to Iran because of coronavirus worries, a spokesman for Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, Reza Jafarzadeh, was quoted as saying on July 19 by the official IRNA news agency.