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Iran's Rouhani Says Many Mosques To Reopen As Lockdown Eases

A man drives past a closed mosque on his motorcycle during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, in southern Tehran, April 27, 2020

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on state television that mosques would reopen in many low-risk regions of the country on April 4, after they were closed in early March as Iran was hit by the Middle East's deadliest novel coronavirus outbreak.

Rouhani, in a televised meeting of the country's virus taskforce on May 3, said 132 counties, around one-third of Iran's administrative divisions, would "reopen their mosques as of tomorrow."

"Social distancing is more important than collective prayer," Rouhani added, adding that Islam considers safety obligatory, while praying in mosques is only "recommended."

The counties earmarked for reopening are "low-risk," Rouhani said.

He said the committee was also considering reopening schools by May 16 to allow for a month of classes before the summer break.

The outbreak has killed more than 6,150 people and infected more than 96,440 in Iran since it announced its first cases in mid-February.

Iran on May 2 reported its lowest daily toll of new infections since March 10.

Experts and officials both in Iran and abroad have cast doubts over Iran's officially reported figures, saying the real number of cases could be much higher.

Iran has shut universities, cinemas, stadiums, and other public spaces since March.

But it has allowed a phased reopening of its economy since April 11, arguing that the sanctions-hit country cannot afford to remain shut down.

Only "high-risk" businesses like gyms and barbershops remain closed.

"We will continue the reopenings calmly and gradually," Rohani said.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters