Iran begins reopening mosques despite coronavirus concerns

Mosques across 132 "low-risk" cities reopened in Iran under strict guidelines meant to ensure social distancing.

al-monitor Iranian worshippers keep social distancing as they pray at a mosque following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Tehran, Iran, April 30, 2020. Photo by WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS.

May 4, 2020

Iran has begun reopening mosques in “low-risk” parts of the country as health officials claim a downward trend in the number of coronavirus cases reported during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 

In a televised statement Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced mosques in 132 cities across Iran would open their doors Monday. 

"Social distancing is more important than collective prayer," he said, stressing that mosques should only be used as “recommended” by authorities.

Mosques and key religious sites were closed nationwide in early March, prompting mobs of angry Shiite hard-liners to storm holy shrines in the cities of Qom and Mashhad.

Under the new measures, worshippers entering mosques must wear masks and gloves and can only stay for 30 minutes. Mosques are prohibited from serving food and drinks and must provide hand sanitizer to worshippers, according to Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency.

Health officials said over the weekend that the number of infections was trending downward. Iran has reported 6,277 deaths and more than 98,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, although experts have suggested the regime is downplaying the full extent of its crisis.   

Last month, Iran began gradually easing coronavirus restrictions, despite warnings that massive crowds and heavy traffic could lead to a “second wave” of the virus in the country.

Authorities have lifted a ban on travel between provinces and permitted the reopening of certain shops struggling in the coronavirus-battered economy, which was already under pressure from US sanctions. Grand bazaars and commercial complexes resumed business soon after. 

This story contains reporting from Agence France-Presse.