News Brief

Explained: Did Religious Congregations Aid The Spread Of Coronavirus In Iran? 

Swarajya Staff

Mar 03, 2020, 08:13 PM | Updated 08:13 PM IST

Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

It was a scene out of a movie when Iran health minister Iraj Harirchi on 24 February, while telling the reporters that the Islamic Republic had “almost stabilised” after the coronavirus outbreak, grew pale and drenched in sweat.

Harirchi dismissed as hype an Iranian lawmaker’s claim that fifty people had already died from the covid-19 infection. “I will resign if the numbers are even half or a quarter of this,” he said.

The next day Harirchi had to confirm in a video—from quarantine—that the virus had infected him.

Reportedly, Iran has now become one of the global epicenters of the coronavirus—with the highest mortality rate in the world.

Iran has reported more than 1,500 coronavirus cases to date, the highest number in the Middle East, and the official death toll of 66 is the largest outside of China

Some unofficial reports have claimed at least a hundred and thirty-four and even two hundred deaths from the virus.

The role of pilgrimage to religious shrines in Iran

Amidst the outbreak, videos of Shiite pilgrims licking and kissing religious shrines at holy sites in the Iranian cities of Qom and Mashhad emerged on social media.

The coronavirus outbreak also allegedly started in Qom, the conservative city of Shiite seminaries run by leading Ayatollahs.

Qom is known for the Fatima Masumeh shrine which is attended by the visitors from all over the world. The first mention of the disease by the government was a report of two deaths in the city on 19 February.

While the virus spreads via contact, Mohammad Saeedi, who is also the representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader in Qom released a video asking the pilgrims to keep visiting the shrine.

“We consider this holy shrine to be a place of healing. That means people should come here to heal from spiritual and physical diseases,” he said.

South Korea's Shincheonji Church Of Jesus

In South Korea, of the total 763 confirmed cases, more than 300 were linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus congregation in Daegu. Local health officials warned that number could rise further as more than 1,200 church followers are displaying flu-like symptoms.

The church founded by Lee Man-hee in 1984 who claims that he is the second coming of Jesus. He called the coronavirus "an act of the devil who saw the rapid growth of Shincheonji and wants to destroy our advancement".

Later, it was found that a 61-year-old devout church-goer was the source of the spread of virus for a large number of the infected persons.

She reportedly twice refused to get herself tested and is said to have attended the church twice despite her condition worsening.

Korean officials have also initiated a criminal complaint requesting a murder investigation into the leaders of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

Coronavirus in Italy

Coronavirus outbreak has claimed 52 lives till now in Italy, the heart of global Catholicism. The number of confirmed cases in Europe’s worst-hit country have risen to 1,835.

Reportedly, the churches across Italy have suspended all religious activities except weddings and funerals, which can be attended only by close relatives. Some confession schedules have been rolled back.

Churches are obliged to follow these orders, which come from the president of the Lombardy region, according to a statement by the Archdiocese of Milan.

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