Iranians, wearing masks without observing social-distancing, queue outside a money exchange office in Tehran on May 9 2020, during the coronavirus. Picture: AFP/ATTA KENARE
Iranians, wearing masks without observing social-distancing, queue outside a money exchange office in Tehran on May 9 2020, during the coronavirus. Picture: AFP/ATTA KENARE

Tehran — Coronavirus-hit Iran will reopen its mosques for three nights over the next week so that worshippers can pray during one of the holiest times of year, a minister said on Tuesday.

The Islamic republic shut its mosques and shrines in March as part of its efforts to contain the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The reopening was granted for Laylat al-Qadr — a high point during the fasting month of Ramadan that marks when the Quran was revealed to prophet Mohammed for followers of Islam. But health minister Saeed Namaki sounded a note of caution as he announced that worshippers would be allowed to attend mosques and ceremonies for three of the next five nights.

“The biggest strategic mistake is to think that the coronavirus is finished,” he said in remarks broadcast on state television. 

“At any time, we can go back to bad circumstances” due to “negligence”, said Namaki. “Our priority is to hold ceremonies outdoors” such as “in stadiums”, he said, “so that social-distancing is properly observed.”

Namaki said his ministry agreed in a meeting to help “organise ceremonies from midnight to 2am during the nights of Qadr”.

He said the move came in response to “concern” expressed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but stressed the supreme leader “always supports all measures” to contain the virus.

Dozens of new fatalities 

All gatherings would need to respect “sanitary protocols to the maximum”, he said, but warned: “They shouldn’t blame the health ministry and say they wanted to open mosques but didn’t care about people’s health.”

His remarks came shortly before Iran announced another 48 deaths from the virus taking its overall toll to 6,733 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Health ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour said another 1,481 people tested positive for the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 110,767 since the start of the crisis.

Iran has struggled to contain its outbreak of the virus that causes Covid-19 since announcing its first cases in the Shiite holy city of Qom on February 19. The government closed schools, postponed major events and banned inter-city travel, but has eased restrictions gradually since April 11.

It allowed mosques to reopen on May 4 in 132 counties where the virus was deemed to be under control. And on Friday last week, worshippers were able to attend the main weekly prayers for the first time in more than two months, except for in the capital.

On Monday, the government warned of a setback in its efforts to contain the virus.

“We have regressed in Khuzestan due to [people] not observing health protocols,” deputy health minister Alireza Raisi said, referring to a southwestern province that is now the epicentre of the country’s outbreak. “This can happen to any other province if we are not careful,” he added, noting that tighter measures would be re-imposed in other places too if needed.

Experts inside and outside Iran have cast doubt on the country’s official Covid-19 figures, and say the real toll could be much higher.

AFP