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Waiting For Khamenei's Verdict On Row Over Iran Religious Ceremonies Amid Pandemic


Iranian Shi'ite Muslims burn a tent during the reenactment of the Battle of Karbala, in Tehran, September 10, 2019

Iran's Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi on Tuesday advised those who insist on holding Muharram ceremonies to wait for the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other sources of emulation to announce their view but insisted any indoor congregation will be "impossible".

The Supreme Leader himself has been in self-isolation since the breakout in February and has not appeared in public except for a meeting last week with the visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

Although some high-ranking religious leaders (marja') such as Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem-Shirazi have already insisted on holding the mourning ceremonies, the Supreme Leader's decision will be decisive as the supreme jurisprudent (faghih) in the country.

Holding the ceremonies and processions in which millions participated across the country every year has caused much contention this year. Hardliners insist on holding the ceremonies despite the unabating rise in COVID deaths in the past few weeks and health officials' repeated warnings.

Religious congregations in Muharram have strong political and financial significance for the government and its hardliner supporters.

Health authorities have until now said rituals this year may be observed only "for short periods of time, along with social distancing and sanitization while everyone wears face masks." There are also hygienic concerns about the food that is usually offered to those who take part.

Harirchi also said deaths from COVID-19 have increased to 25 percent of all deaths from 20 percent two weeks ago. On Tuesday the daily death toll registered a new record high of 235. According to Harirchi the number of deaths in the country is now around 1000 of which nearly 25 percent are due to COVID-19.

A state of red alert has now been declared in most of the country's 31 provinces but the "main disaster has occurred in the capital Tehran which now has the third-highest COVID deaths in the country, the Deputy Health Minister said.

Using masks which became compulsory in public places on July 5 has reached 70 percent but must increase to 80 to 95 percent to make a considerable difference, he added.

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