Virus forces closure of key Shiite tomb in Iran's Mashhad

Tehran (AFP) –


The tomb of Imam Reza in Iran's holy Shiite city of Mashhad has been closed to pilgrims until further notice in line with measures to stop the new coronavirus, a spokesman said Sunday.

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

He added that group prayers had been cancelled "except in open spaces and courtyards of the mausoleum where there are few pilgrims these days."

Mashhad's Imam Reza shrine receives many devout Iranians every year, especially around the Persian new year holiday of Nowrouz, which starts this year on March 20.

The shrine announced Wednesday that New Year ceremonies at the complex would be cancelled in accordance with "strict directives from health authorities prohibiting gatherings."

"In the absence of pilgrims this year, the New Year's ceremonies will be broadcast on television and radio," the spokesman said.

It said the same would apply to "other religious celebrations" at the shrine which had been scheduled for the first days of the new year.

Iran said Sunday that its COVID-19 outbreak has now killed 724 people among 13,938 cases of infection.

More than 560 of the infections have been confirmed in Khorasan Razavi province, where Mashhad is located.

The province had already closed hotels and other tourist accommodation in a bid to dissuade people from travelling there, according to semi-official news agency ISNA.

Mashhad's mayor Mohammad Kalaei said on Instagram on Saturday that "circumstances in Mashhad have become more serious and worrying" as infections grew.

And on Twitter, he urged officials to impose a quarantine on the holy city.