Virus-hit Iran closes four key religious sites

Tehran (AFP) –


Iran closed four key Shiite pilgrimage sites across the Islamic republic Monday in line with measures to stop the new coronavirus, state media said, sparking protests at one of them.

State television said that "upon the orders of the anti-coronavirus headquarters and the health minister, the holy shrines of" Imam Reza in Mashhad, Fatima Masumeh in Qom and Shah Abdol-Azim in Tehran were shut until further notice.

IRNA news agency said the closure of Fatima Masumeh triggered angry protests in Qom, the epicentre of the outbreak in Iran that has killed more than 850 people.

Some of the demonstrators chanted "religious slogans" and damaged the entrance door, it added.

Qom's Jamkaran mosque also said in a separate statement it would close its doors, according to IRNA.

The mosque said the closure was aimed at "cutting the spread of this highly contagious disease" and done at the request of the anti-coronavirus headquarters, the agency added.

Health Minister Saeid Namaki said on state television that the shrines and other unspecified "holy sites are announcing that they agree with our request for closing completely until after the New Year holidays" which start on Friday.

Tehran, Qom and Khorasan Razavi, where Mashhad is located, are some of the worst-hit provinces in the Islamic republic.

Qom was where the first COVID-19 deaths and infections were reported on February 19.

The shrines had so far only limited pilgrims' presence in certain parts of their complexes.

Iran has been scrambling to contain the spread of the virus which has so far killed 853 people and infected nearly 15,000 in Iran, according to government figures.