Iran Records Highest Single-Day COVID-19 Death Toll, Atomic Energy Chief Infected

Iran announced its highest single-day death toll from COVID-19 Sunday, placing partial blame on the U.S. as its currency plunged and several senior officials were infected with the novel coronavirus.

Iranian Health Ministry spokesperson Sima Sadat Lari said the country's total pandemic death toll now stands at 28,544, making it the hardest-hit nation in the Middle East. On Sunday, Tehran confirmed a record single-day death toll of 251 people, while local media reported that at least two senior officials in the government were among those infected. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's atomic energy organization, tested positive for COVID-19. He has been a leading critic of the Trump administration re-imposing sanctions on Iran after pulling out of the Obama-era nuclear deal in 2018.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif criticized the U.S. Thursday, claiming the sanctions have cut off food and medical supplies desperately needed in a pandemic.

Salehi, who is also a vice president of Iran, first tested positive for the coronavirus last week and has been in self-quarantine since, the Tasnim news agency reported, adding that he is currently in good health. Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, a vice president in charge of budget and planning, also tested positive, the Associated Press reported.

The Iranian currency plunged further on Sunday following the Trump administration's move to blacklist 18 of the country's banks that had circumvented U.S. sanctions until recently. The U.S. action means financial institutions such as lenders are hit with penalties if found to be doing business with the Iranian banks—a move that effectively cuts them off from international money networks.

Over the weekend, the country's currency fell to its lowest value ever, with money exchange shops selling U.S. dollars at 315,000 rials by Sunday morning. In 2015, when Tehran made its initial nuclear deal with the Obama administration, the currency stood at 32,000 rials to the U.S. dollar.

Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear energy program, was a top negotiator with the U.S. at the time. But President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have spearheaded the unilateral U.S. withdraw from the 2015 agreement and restarted widespread economic sanctions on Iran since 2018. Pompeo earlier this year accused Iran of censoring information about its true number of coronavirus cases.

Salehi has since appealed to the United Nations and European powers to push back against the U.S. sanctions.

Iran's health ministry confirmed 3,822 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, pushing the country's total to 500,075 since the pandemic began there in February. Currently, about 4,500 patients are in critical condition with symptoms tied to the coronavirus throughout the country. In July, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said 35 million residents may contract coronavirus in a push for herd immunity, a term meaning a certain proportion of individuals have become immune to a disease, particularly through vaccination.

"We have not yet achieved herd immunity and we have no choice but to be united and break the chain of transmission of the coronavirus," Rouhani said at the time, citing the results of a study by the Iranian health ministry, and prompting confusion within the country's scientific community.

Newsweek reached out to the White House Sunday morning for any response to the coronavirus report out of Iran.

ali akbar salehi nuclear iran
Iran announced its highest single-day death toll from coronavirus Sunday, placing partial blame on the U.S. as its currency plunged and several senior officials were infected with COVID-19. JOE KLAMAR / AFP/Getty Images