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200,000 Travelers From Iran Coronavirus Epicenter Ordered To Go Back Immediately

A cleric and a woman pray behind the closed door of Masoume Shrine in the city of Qom, some 80 miles (125 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. March 16, 2020

A healthcare official of the Qom Province on March 26 said that the 200,000 residents of the province who have traveled out must go back as soon as possible and self-isolate.

Mohammad-Reza Qadir, Head of Qom Medical Sciences University, on Wednesday said those who have traveled out will be screened to identify and quarantine infected individuals.

According to Dr. Qadir, there are currently 475 patients with acute respiratory and coronavirus infection symptoms in the hospitals of the city. Another official of the University had earlier said that 433 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in the city of Qom and 3,370 more in the rest of the province.

Qom was the epicenter of coronavirus in Iran which according to a Health Ministry official was transmitted to the city's general population by the Chinese students of a university-style religious seminary.

Iranian authorities have so far, presumably due to the very high figures, kept the death toll in Qom and Tehran provinces secret but a in a leaked recording of a session of Qom Province Crisis Management Headquarters on March 5 an official is heard saying that bodies of 120 coronavirus victims were buried. Health Ministry officials have neither refuted nor confirmed the figure given in the recording.

Qom is the largest center for Shiite theology in the world and a major destination for pilgrimage with around twenty million people visiting the city every year both from Iran and abroad.The first two cases of coronavirus death in Iran were officially reported, both in Qom, on February 19.

Many among the Iranian public as well as health workers blame the spread of the virus in the country on the government's refusal, or inability, to quarantine the city due to the opposition of the extremely powerful clerical establishment who also enjoy the support of the Revolutionary Guard.

Critics believe that the country's medical officials were ordered by higher up decision-makers to conceal the outbreak for several days, or even weeks, in order to please the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who sought a high turnout in the parliamentary elections of February 21 as proof of the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic system.