A couple wearing protective face masks following a coronavirus outbreak walk in the Iranian city of Qom. (Reuters)

By Pouyan Khoshhal

January 21, 2021

Clerics in Qom have called for the spokesman for the National Coronavirus Taskforce to be dismissed and put on trial for saying recent religious gatherings helped spread coronavirus cases.

Qom Seminary and Friday Prayers Headquarters objected to comments made by Alireza Raeesi at a press conference, during which he criticized  authorities’ decision to allow ceremonies to go ahead, and said it had led to further cases of the virus.

The Friday Imam’s Policy Council public relations office called for Raeesi’s resignation and insisted that Friday prayers in Qom had been held in full compliance with health protocols. The statement it released further claimed that in his sermon before the prayers, the Friday Imam had praised health officials and had reminded the congregation that they must follow health guidelines.

Another religious organization, the Seminary Headquarters of the Islamic Revolution, went even further. It appealed to health minister Saeed Namaki, calling for not only for the dismissal of Raeesi but also for him to be put on trial because his “overblown” statements led to what it described as a “new wave of Qom-phobia”.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, there has been a consistent tug of war between religious leaders and health officials over religious ceremonies and gatherings — events that seemed to pose an obvious potential breeding ground for the virus.

The most recent example was Fatimiyya, the days when Muslims and Shias in particular mourn the martyrdom of Fatimiyya al-Zahra, the youngest daughter of the Prophet Mohammad in 632 AD, even though such gatherings were specifically banned. Videos and photographs taken on the streets of a number of Iranian cities revealed that processions took place regardless, many of them disregarding social distancing and other health protocols.

“Traditional” Remedies Approved to Treat Coronavirus

Another tug of war that has been raging since the pandemic started has been the one over “traditional” medicines used to treat coronavirus, mostly championed by various clergymen and individuals with dubious medical credentials. On January 19, Dr. Nafiseh Hossein-Yekta, director general of health ministry’s Iranian and Supplementary Medicine, announced that the ministry had received more than 90 suggestions that it study “traditional and herbal remedies” to treat coronavirus. As of January 19, approximately 45 such studies had been carried out. According to her, some of the remedies had received permits from Iran’s Food and Drug Administration, labeled “drugs that help in the treatment of coronavirus.” The rest are under review.

The Highly Contagious Coronavirus Strain “Mostly in Tehran”

Recently it was announced that at least five cases the highly contagious coronavirus strain first detected in England had been identified in Tehran. On January 19, without giving any specifics, Shokrollah Hossein-Beigi, deputy provincial governor for political and social affairs, announced that, although other cases of this coronavirus variant had been found in other parts of Iran, the majority of the cases have been identified in Tehran. He said they would attempt to quarantine other people who had been in close contact with these cases.

Reporting that in recent days the number of coronavirus outpatients had grown by two percent, Hossein-Beigi said that a greater percentage of Covid-19 fatalities happen among young people. A day earlier, on January 18, Dr. Alireza Zali, director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, had said that in the past two weeks the number of hospitalizations of patients in the age group between five and 17 has increased. “Although, in absolute terms, the rate of fatalities among those younger than 10 is low, we have witnessed an increase in deaths among individuals 10 years old and younger,” said Dr. Zali.

In the past 24 hours the number of hospitalizations in Tehran province reached 1,915 of whom around 760 are being treated at ICUs.

At least 33 cities in Tehran province are on red or orange alert, and Tehran health officials say the rate of coronavirus infections among children and teenagers in the nation’s capital has been rising. And although some neighboring countries have been vaccinating their citizens for a few weeks, it is still not clear when Iran will start coronavirus vaccinations.

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.