Videos spreading on social media are showing Iranians kissing and licking Shi'ite shrines throughout the country as many call to close the shrines amid a severe coronavirus outbreak in the Islamic Republic.
The epicenter of the outbreak in Iran, Qom, is a religious city home to several shrines. The shrines remain open as some reports place the death toll in Iran in the hundreds.
“Stop scaring the people this much with coronavirus,” said one man as he filmed himself at the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom, attacking those who have stopped visiting the shrine due to the outbreak. The man then kissed the walls of the entrance of the shrine. “Stop toying with people’s beliefs – coronavirus is nothing in the Shia shrines.”
Videos on social media show Iranians licking shrines amid controversy over calls to close access to the shrines. #Iran has recorded the highest number of #coronavirus cases in the Middle East. More here: https://t.co/K8O0DBk1zC pic.twitter.com/ywyXJjDTvm— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) March 1, 2020
The representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Qom has urged Iranians to visit the shrine, calling it a "place of healing." “We consider this holy shrine to be a place of healing. That means people should come here to heal from spiritual and physical diseases,” said cleric Mohammad Saeedi, according to Al Arabiya.
Another video shared on social media shows a man licking the shrine to "take in all the coronavirus."
A video from the city of Mashhad, shows a man licking the Imam Reza shrine and saying, "I have come to lick the Imam Reza shrine so that I contract this disease and allow others to visit the shrine with peace of mind." The man was later arrested, according to the Iranian Fars news agency.
The Iranian Health Ministry announced on Sunday that the death toll due to the coronavirus has risen to 54 with 978 people infected. The actual death toll may be much higher, as the BBC reported on Friday that at least 210 people had died due to the virus. The Islamic Republic has been accused of concealing information and not reporting the actual number of infections and deaths, with the actual number of people infected possibly amounting to over 10,000.
Disinfectants are in short supply throughout the country, with a Tehran city official warning that "standard" disinfectants that were used to spray metro trains and buses have run out and now "non-standard" chemical solutions are being used, according to Radio Farda. The price for disinfectants has skyrocketed and is now out of reach for many Iranians.
Iranian Health Minister Saeed Namaki complained to President Hassan Rouhani, saying that ministry officials have had to "look day and night to find masks from merchants and smugglers, with very high prices," according to Radio Farda.Schools and universities throughout the country have been closed for several days, and sporting events and concerts are being cancelled, according to the Iranian Tasnim news agency.