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Tragedy Inevitable If Trips To Coronavirus-Stricken City Continue, Councillor Says

Pilgrims at the shrine of Shiite Imam Reza in Mashhad Iran. FILE PHOTO

The Chairman of the City Council of Mashhad, Iran's second most-populated city, has warned that a human tragedy would be inevitable if the New Year holiday visitors' influx continues at the same rate.

The Province of Khorasan Razavi of which Mashhad is the capital is struggling with the coronavirus epidemic that has struck Iran the hardest among Middle Eastern countries.

So far more than 750 have been officially listed as infected with the virus in the province according to the Health Ministry. But An official of the World Health Organization (WHO) who has recently visited Iran on March 16 said the real numbers can be up to five times more. On March 16 a medical official of the city said 230 patients had died of respiratory infections who were suspected of having coronavirus.

In an Instagram post on Friday Mohammad-Reza Heydari, the Chairman of Mashhad City Council, said the number of cars that have entered the city is 42.97 percent less in comparison with the previous Iranian New Year (Nowrouz) holidays but "this is still too many". According to Heydari on March 19 alone 59,000 cars entered the city. The Iranian New Year holidays started on March 20.

Last week several city officials including Mayor Mohammad-Reza Kalaiee warned that the city was facing the threat of turning into a new coronavirus (COVID-19) hotspot if immediate measures including a lockdown were not put into effect but the government has resisted the pleas for lockdowns.

President Rouhani himself on March 15 ruled out the possibility of locking down Iranian cities unless the Coronavirus Combat Taskforce decides otherwise. Local governors are not allowed to make independent decisions about qurantiness, he said.

According to the Mayor of Tehran Pirouz Hanachi imposing locking down cities cannot be implemented because the government cannot support people and compensate businesses due to economic pressures resulting from U.S. sanctions.

Mashhad is home to the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Imam of Shiites. Religious Iranians flock to the city every year to visit the shrine on the first day of the Iranian year. The shrine closed its doors to pilgrims on Sunday.

Ayatollahs Ahmad Alam ol-Hoda, the Custodian of Imam Reza Shrine, put up strong opposition to the government decision to halt Friday prayers due to coronavirus and shrine closures and a number of vigilantes on Monday tried to force their way into the complex.