Tehran - The number of daily new coronavirus cases in Iran has fallen back to under 3,000, the health ministry said Friday, a day after hitting a new peak.

Authorities registered 2,886 new cases of infection, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said, bringing the total number to 167,156 since the start of the outbreak in February.

The Islamic republic on Thursday announced a record 3,574 daily infections, passing a high point set in March, after breaching the 3,000-mark for several days.

Jahanpour said Friday that 63 more people had died, with the official death toll now at 8,134, the highest in the Middle East.

There has been some scepticism at home and abroad about Iran’s official figures, with concerns the real toll could be much higher.

Authorities have been progressively lifting restrictions imposed to curb the outbreak, and life has almost returned to normal in most of the country’s 31 provinces.

But the southwestern province of Khuzestan remains classified as a “red zone” -- the highest level of risk in the country, and with greater restrictions.

Seven other provinces, mainly in the south and west, are still under a “health alert”, Jahanpour said, down from nine announced earlier this week.

He urged people in these areas to “follow social distancing instructions, wear a mask and avoid unnecessary travel”.

The rising trajectory of infection figures since a low in early May has authorities worried, and the health ministry has stepped up a public health campaign.

Officials have also suggested the surge could be a result of wider testing, with Jahanpour saying Thursday that Iran had conducted over a million tests.