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Iranian Muslims May Be Creating COVID-19 ‘Super-Spreaders’ Through Pilgrimages

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In countries around the world, public places such as schools, stores, theme parks and even houses of worship have shuttered their doors in an effort to promote social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Yet there is one place that is still seeing its share of visitors despite these measures, and that is a pair of Islamic shrines located in Qom, Iran. The city is considered holy to Shiite Muslims and draws pilgrims from around the globe.

Authorities in Iran closed the city shrines on March 16, sparking protests by Islamic faithful and some clerics at the shrines, including at the Fatima Masumeh Shrine in Qom, according to Time.

Despite the purported closures, Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad tweeted a video Monday allegedly showing tour buses and pilgrims on foot are still headed toward one of the city’s holy sites.

“Iranian authorities are creating #CoronaVirus super-spreaders,” Alinejad wrote.

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“You know how? By keeping open these religious shrines in Qom, epicentre of the virus in Iran. These pilgrims will then travel to their own countries. The regime is endangering the health of Iranians & world.”

The subtitled footage appears to have been taken from a moving vehicle with a male voice describing the scene as he apparently passes a holy site only identified as being in the city of Qom.

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He describes how “busloads of pilgrims” are pouring in, likely bringing Indian and Pakistani Muslims to the shrine. “Strangely, authorities keep denying this,” he says, according to the subtitles.

At one point, the video’s narrator rolls down his window as he pulls up to another man on a motorcycle.

It appears from the subtitles that the motorcyclist, who is wearing a protective medical-style face mask, comments, “You know, they say every place should close down and people should self-isolate. Who are these people?”

The driver of the vehicle replies, “We don’t know where they’re coming from. They’re all in Qom, visiting the shrine.”

He ends his remarks and the video by asking rhetorically, “Is this how they want to break the coronavirus pandemic? Really, like this?”

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Iranian authorities were initially slow to respond to the coronavirus and even more reluctant to close the shrines as they covered up news of the pandemic in their country.

As a result, Iran now has a staggering number of coronavirus infections as 47,593 are sickened and 3,036 have died as of Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins.

If the footage and the commentators’ statements are correct, visitors to the city are in serious danger of further spreading coronavirus and pose an urgent threat to public health.

During this time of tragedy and uncertainty, it makes sense that the faithful would be drawn to holy sites to gather in prayer, but the unfortunate reality is that large gatherings spread sickness and death during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Holy sites for other religions are closed around the world, including the Vatican in Italy as well as the healing springs at Lourdes, France, both of which are important pilgrimage sites for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

“Pope Francis, giving an extraordinary #UrbiEtOrbi in a rainy and empty St. Peter’s Square is a powerful image,” reads a Catholic Talk Show tweet showing the startling image of the pope addressing an empty plaza outside of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Closing holy sites in Iran is a sensitive issue, to be sure, but allowing pilgrims to defy the supposed closure is reckless in a country of over 81 million citizens that is already battling the virus.

The problem is compounded exponentially as the pilgrims visiting the holy sites today will become the “patient zeros” of tomorrow as they bring the virus back to their families and home countries.

The greatest risk might come from those who return home feeling well and continue with business as usual, silently spreading the virus to family, friends, neighbors, shopkeepers and so on.

When millions are sacrificing so much everywhere else in the world, a situation such as this could negate the impact of others who are practicing social distancing. These pilgrims can indeed become the “super-spreaders” that Alinejad warned about.

We are all in need of comfort, and turning to God in uncertain times is admirable. Spreading coronavirus, however, is not.

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

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