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Iranian clerics keep shrines open, even as coronavirus spreads

The Associated Press reports:

Shiite shrines that attract tens of millions of visitors annually have come under focus in Iran as the country grapples with the spread of the coronavirus.

The outbreak of the virus in Iran prompted the government to request the closure of major shrines in cities like Qom, Mashhad and Shiraz, but Iran’s powerful clerics have rejected or ignored the notices. The decision to keep the shrines open shows the power of Iran’s religious establishment and the Shiite theocracy’s approach to the widening crisis.

While the government has suspended school across much of Iran this week and canceled soccer matches and screenings at cinemas, the continued access to the shrines has raised questions about the government’s willingness to respond decisively and rapidly to the virus, which has infected people in several cities and been confirmed in travelers from Iran in eight countries.

On Tuesday, a government official repeated a request for the shrines to be closed.

“At the moment we absolutely support the temporary closure of any type of human gathering, including tourist areas and pilgrimage sites,” Iranian Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told The Associated Press.

The shrines, housed in gloriously built mosques, attract not just daily worshipers but also millions of visitors each year who touch or kiss the tombs’ protective bars. The virus is believed to be spread through droplets when people cough or sneeze, although specialists don’t think the virus can survive on surfaces for very long.

Iraqi authorities on Monday closed the gold-domed shrine of Imam Ali, the revered 7th century founder of the Shiite sect. The rare move came after a 22-year-old Iranian student was confirmed positive for the virus in the city of Najaf, marking the first case in Iraq. [Continue reading…]

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