TEHRAN, July 19 (CGTN) - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said 35 million Iranians may contract the coronavirus. The figure was far higher than Saturday's official data for infections of 271,606 and accounts more than 30 percent of Iran's 80 million population.

"Our estimate is that up to now, 25 million Iranians have been infected with this virus," Rouhani said during a televised meeting on Saturday. Rouhani's office said the number of infections was based on an "estimated scenario" from a health ministry research report.

"We have to consider the possibility that 30 to 35 million more may face infection."

He added that more than 200,000 people have been hospitalized and the ministry expected that another 200,000 might need hospital treatment in the coming months.

An official at the government's coronavirus task force said the 25 million people mentioned by Rouhani were "mildly affected patients who ... did not need to seek medical advice," the semi-official news agency ISNA reported.

"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," he said.

It appears to be the first time a senior official has indicated the country is seeking to defeat COVID-19 via herd immunity.

Iran has been the Middle East country hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with infections and deaths rising sharply since restrictions were eased, beginning in mid-April.

Authorities on Saturday reimposed restrictions for a week in the capital Tehran, including banning religious and cultural functions, closing boarding schools, cafes, indoor pools, amusement parks and zoos.

From Sunday, 22 cities and towns in the southwestern Khuzestan province will be under a three-day lockdown, the province's governorate announced on Saturday.

That will include Behbahan, where police on Thursday fired tear gas into a crowd protesting over economic hardships.