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Iran Health Official Warns About Worsening Pandemic And Religious Gatherings

People wearing masks on the streets of the Iranian capital Tehran.
People wearing masks on the streets of the Iranian capital Tehran.

An Iranian health official on Sunday warned that the Health Ministry's protocols are not likely to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the upcoming Shiite religious ceremonies and warned about a third wave of the pandemic in autumn.

Dr. Minoo Mohraz, the Head of the Iranian Center for HIV/AIDS and a pioneer AIDS specialist, said masks cannot prevent the spread of the virus during the mourning ceremonies of Muharram. "Mourners will sweat. Wet masks are useless," she said and added, "Muharram mourning ceremonies are not regular gatherings. It will be impossible to keep a safe distance between people in these ceremonies," she said.

During the annual ceremonies that fall in September this year, millions across the country take to the streets for mass processions to mourn the anniversary of the death of the third Shiite Imam in 680 AD. Many of the ceremonies take place inside mosques, shrines and other closed spaces.

The Health Ministry on Sunday announced a series of protocols for the ceremonies this year. The protocols ban processions and only allow the ceremonies to be held for a maximum of two hours in open spaces where a safe two-meter distance can be kept between participants. Wearing masks will be compulsory during the ceremonies.

Many health experts, however, have warned that the Health Ministry does not have the means to enforce its protocols and controlling massive crowds of mourners is almost impossible.

However, President Hassan Rouhani insists that completely banning the ceremonies is not possible. Speaking at a meeting of the National Coronavirus Taskforce on Sunday he reiterated that the government cannot impose strict coronavirus restrictions because it will put stress on people and make them depressed.

Defending the coronavirus policies of his administration, Rouhani said they can neither completely shut down economic, educational, cultural and social activities, nor allow them to continue as if nothing had happened. "We need to choose a middle path and traverse along it," he said.

Iran has recently been struck with a second wave of the epidemic which increased the daily deaths from around 50 in April to over 200 in July. There are still more than 2,000 new cases every day but the death rate has somehow dropped.