Iran shutters key Shia pilgrimage site as coronavirus claims 113 more lives

Iran shutters key Shia pilgrimage site as coronavirus claims 113 more lives
The Imam Reza shrine attracted global attention after pilgrims were pictured licking the site in defiance of coronavirus prevention measures.
2 min read
15 March, 2020
More than 700 people have died of the novel coronavirus in Iran [NurPhoto]
A key pilgrimage site in Iran's holy Shia city of Mashhad has been closed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, a spokesman said on Sunday.

The new measures to shut the tomb of Imam Reza come as the Covid-19 pandemic claims another 113 lives in the Islamic Republic.

Iran has seen one of the deadliest outbreaks of the new coronavirus outside of China, where it originated. 

Tehran on Sunday urged citizens to stick to guidelines and stay at home after announcing the latest deaths, bringing the total toll to 724 dead since last month.

People "should cancel all travel and stay at home so that we may see the situation improving in the coming days", health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference.

Jahanpour also reported 1,209 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection, raising the total to 13,938.

"The good news is that more than 4,590 of the overall confirmed cases have recovered" and the patients have been discharged from hospitals, he added.

Jahanpour called on Iranians to "take the coronavirus seriously" and especially be mindful of elderly relatives who are most vulnerable to the infection.

Tehran province had the highest number of new infections with 251 fresh cases.

Khorasan Razavi province followed with 143 cases.

"The cases there will probably increase," the official said, calling on everyone to cease from travelling to the northeastern province, home to the holy Shia city of Mashhad.

Mashhad's Imam Reza shrine receives many devout Iranians every year, especially around the country's New Year holidays which start on March 20.

The tomb will be closed from Sunday onwards, a spokesman told AFP on Sunday.

"Currently, the porches of the mausoleum and generally all the covered spaces of the holy shrine are closed," the spokesman said.

The Imam Reza shrine attracted attention earlier this month after pilgrims were filmed licking the metal grilles surrounding the tomb in defiance of measures to prevent the virus' spread.

Iranians were also filmed licking parts of the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom, another Shia holy city.

Jafar Ghafouri, an activist of a branch of Shia Islam that rejects the Islamic Republic, was later arrested over a video in which he appeared licking the metal gating surrounding the Imam Reza tomb.

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