Devout Iranian Muslims are releasing online videos showing the faithful licking and kissing shrines to show they have no fear of infection during the country’s escalating coronavirus outbreak.
Officials have confirmed 978 cases in Iran and 54 deaths, the highest death toll of any country outside China. But religious leaders continue to reject advice from the Health Ministry to close holy sites to help stop the spread of infection.
Instead the videos, which have reportedly emerged from Iran’s coronavirus epicentre of Qom, show Islamic devotees spreading misinformation about the virus while forcing young children to also take part.
More videos are emerging of people licking the shrines in the city of Qom #CoronaVirus, the epicentre of the epidemic in Iran.
Iran's authorities still adamantly refuse to close these religious sites.
The virus is wreaking havoc all over the country pic.twitter.com/veCQd6ots6
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) March 1, 2020
Touching and kissing surfaces in shrines is a common practice for pilgrims, and religious hardliners argue the holy sites of Qom are “a place for healing.”
But many Iranians are worried the clerical establishment is not taking the outbreak seriously, while Iranian health workers have reportedly admitted the number of people that have died from coronavirus could be five times more than government figures claim.
Still many hold a contrary view that Islamic faith will beat any virus.
“There are people who say that this shrine spreads coronavirus. I’m here to lick the tomb so that I can fall ill. This way, I’ve removed the virus. You can come and visit,” one man says in a video.
U.S. Department of State senior advisor for public affairs Len Khodorkovsky shared a clip, captioning it: “Don’t do this. Ever. But especially during the coronavirus outbreak.”
Another video from the city of Mashhad, where the Imam Reza shrine is located, shows a man licking the shrine and reportedly 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”.
— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) March 1, 2020
As Breitbart News reported, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence announced Saturday additional travel bans on travelers from Iran.
The United States currently bans some travel from the Islamic republic, but that ban will be expanded to include foreign traveling from Iran or through Iran in the past 14 days.
Pence said the State Department would also announce a level four warning about traveling to specific regions in Italy and South Korea, where the virus is also spreading.
“We are urging Americans to not travel to the areas in Italy and the areas in South Korea that are most affected by the coronavirus,” Pence said.