Iran has reopened major Shia shrines across the Islamic republic, more than two months after they were closed, as it reported its lowest deaths from coronavirus since March.
At Tehran’s Shah Abdol-Azim shrine, worshippers had to wear a mask, walk through a disinfection tunnel and have their temperature checked as they began returning early morning on Monday, according to AFP reporters.
Worshippers prayed in the shrine’s courtyard with most observing social distancing.
“I am happy that we can again come here. It is a place where people can seek shelter, express their wishes and voice their concerns,” said Karim, a 49-year-old government employee.
Shah Abdol-Azim is a descendant of Imam Hassan, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
Devotees frequently visit the shrine to seek blessings and healing and call on God to hear their prayers and realise their wishes.
Another visitor, 45-year-old engineer Hassan, said he was wearing a mask and keeps disinfectant in his bag “so that my pilgrimage would not lead to infection for myself, my family or other worshippers”.
Elahe, a 39-year-old teacher donning a mask and gloves, said she was “so happy” to visit the shrine after months and thanked the health workers “who made it possible for us to be here”.
The Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad in northeast Iran and the Fatima Masumeh shrine and Jamkaran mosque in the holy city of Qom also reopened while observing health protocols, state news agency IRNA reported.
They are allowed to open starting from an hour after dawn until an hour before dusk.
State TV showed worshippers crying and running towards Imam Reza’s shrine as they were guided by attendants.
A statement on the shrine’s website said visitors must wear masks, maintain social distancing, and bring their own prayer mats, books and other accessories, in line with health requirements.
Shrines were closed alongside schools, universities and all non-vital businesses in March after Iran reported its first two coronavirus deaths in Qom in late February.
On Monday, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the total number of COVID-19 infections in Iran had reached 137,724, while the death toll had risen to 7,451.
In the past 24 hours, Iran recorded 2,032 new cases while the number of deaths stood at 34 – the lowest daily count recorded since March 7 – he told a news conference.
Experts inside and outside Iran have cast doubt on the country’s official figures, and say the real numbers could be much higher.
Iran has allowed a phased reopening of its economy and gradual relaxation of restrictions since early April, with a further easing expected in the coming days despite a recent uptick in new cases.
“High-risk” businesses such as restaurants, cafes and wedding halls in Tehran, which were left shuttered, will reopen from Tuesday, the capital’s deputy police chief Nader Moradi told ISNA news agency.
Authorities are yet to say when similar measures will be allowed in other provinces.