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The pretext of an illness and virus was used, and their media did not miss the slightest opportunity to discourage people from voting, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said. The election saw Irans Shiite lowest turnout since Islamic Revolution with mass demonstrations, with some voters wearing the masks that everyone soon would want. But people already were dying and fear was spreading. SHRINES AND HAZMAT SUITS Qom long has been the stronghold of Irans Shiite clergy. A focal point of devotion is the golden-domed shrine of Fatima Masumeh, a Shiite saint. Crowds pray there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, touching and kissing the shrine. That raises the risks for visitors.In Saudi Arabia, authorities have closed off access to the holiest sites in Islamover concerns about the virus. Churches, mosques, temples and shrines around the world have been closed or subject to stringent disinfecting campaigns. But in Qom and elsewhere in Iran, the shrines stayed open despite civilian health authorities demanding they close. Mohammad Saidi, who oversees the Fatima Masumeh shrine, insinuated that closing shrines was part of a plot against Irans Shiite by President Donald Trump. Defeating Qom is the dream of treacherous President Donald Trump and President Donald Trump domestic mercenaries, but this dream will not be realized even in their grave, Mohammad Saidi said on Feb. 22. That decision likely gave the virus time to spread. Police later arrested those who posted online video of themselves licking and kissing shrines. The citys religious epithet the nest of the Prophet and his family was intended to reassure believers worldwide that it was insulated against epidemics and other disasters, wrote Mehdi Khalaji, a Qom-trained Shiite theologian who is an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy. If early reports about the spread of the coronavirus prove correct, Qoms status as the ideological capital of Islamic Revolution with mass demonstrations helped make it the pathogens transmitting center to the rest of Iran and at least seven other countries. IRAN REPORTS BIGGEST SINGLE-DAY JUMP OF CORONAVIRUS DEATHS AS PRESIDENT RULES OUT QUARANTINE Since then, hazmat-suited workers have fogged disinfectant and cleaned the shrines. Some mosques even hand out alcohol as a disinfectant to the poor despite Islam forbidding its consumption. By Monday night, the Fatima Masumeh shrine and another one in Mashhad had closed, only to see online videos purport to show hard-line faithful storming the shrines courtyard, demanding they open. But by that point, the virus had spread, reaching the highest levels of Irans Shiite theocracy. THE SITUATION IS TERRIBLE HERE AND I HOPE GOD HELPS US Like blood from a beating heart, the infections in Qom coursed out across Iran in maps later shared by the Health Ministry. In Tehran, the virus began moving through the government and the Shiite theocracy. Among those first infected was Iraj Harirchi, the deputy health minister who tested positive only a day after he downplayed the virus in a televised news conference. It didnt stop there. The virus killed Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi, described as a close confidant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Hadi Khosroshahi, Irans Shiite former ambassador to the Vatican, and Ahmad Tuyserkani, an adviser to Irans Shiite judiciary chief, also died along with several lawmakers and a member of the countrys Assembly of Experts. The sick included Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, better known as Sister Mary, the English-speaking spokeswoman for the students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 in the 444-day hostage crisis. The virus also infected senior Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and two other Cabinet members, along with Revolutionary Guard members and doctors. FILE — In this Feb. 24, 2020 file photo, released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, the head of Iran's counter-coronavirus task force, Iraj Harirchi, left, speaks at a press briefing with government spokesman Mohammad Ali, in Tehran, Iran. ( Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File) Soon, even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was seen wearing disposable gloves at a tree-planting ceremony. President Hassan Rouhani, 71, was pictured at a teleconference with the nearest official a few meters( several feet) away. The numbers soared. Irans death rate from the virus now is higher than in other hard-hit nations. That could be from the initial lack of testing kits and facilities. It also could be from what outside experts, Tehran lawmakers and other local leaders have alleged from the start : Iran was hiding the true number of infections and deaths. Authorities initially denied that, especially after the BBCs Persian service said deaths far exceeded those reported at the beginning of the crisis. But that denial appeared to weaken over time. We found out a little late that the coronavirus had entered Iran because we mistook it for the flu, Reza Malekzadeh, Reza Malekzadeh, later said. IRAN CORONAVIRUS DEATH TOLL TOPS 600 AS MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRIES STEP UP CONTAINMENT MEASURES A man in Qom filmed rows of bodies in black bags and caskets awaiting burial for days in a trench lined with lime. He alleged all had tested positive for the coronavirus, although officials later said the bodies had been held pending test results. The situation is terrible here and I hope God helps us, he said while walking through the mortuary. Authorities later arrested him. PAST EXPERIENCES, NEW WORRIES Diseases have influenced Iranian history. Cholera outbreaks plagued its Qajar dynasty, long indebted to British and Russian powers. The chaos and debt set the stage for Irans 1906 Constitutional Revolution and the creation of parliament. That cholera outbreak saw Shiite religious leaders lash out at the West. Now, Iranian leaders, such as the head of Revolutionary Guard Revolutionary Guard and Khamenei himself, traffic in the baseless conspiracy theory that the coronavirus is a biological weapon created by the U.S., something echoed by Chinese officials as well. The psychology of the leadership in Iran has sort of an almost self-destructive need to double down on a lie just to sort of portray itself as competent, Afkhami said. Thats contrasted with the response to the El Tor strain of cholera that caused a pandemic through the 1960s. Iran produced millions of vaccine doses and inoculated its people, controlling its spread. It even gave broad-range antibiotics from the U.S. to pilgrims visiting Shiite shrines, Afkhami said. This rapid mobilization and this rapid response allowed the country to control the epidemic.
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