Iran’s regime exacerbates Covid outbreak by holding Arbaeen ceremonies

Analysis by PMOI/MEK

Iran, October 6, 2021—While the Iranian regime’s health minister is heralding victory over coronavirus in the next few days, many physicians and health experts are warning about the threat of the sixth wave of Covid in Iran, which will result in more deaths in the next weeks than what has been witnessed in the past few months.

Even the state-run Tasnim News Agency reported on October 5, “In the next 14 days, we will probably witness a spike in the indicators and probability of a sixth peak in the country.”

Experts are citing different reasons for the looming catastrophe, including the disastrous vaccination policy. According to the regime’s official stats, only 20 percent of the population has been vaccinated. Other problems include the low quality of vaccines, the hasty reopening of school classes.

But one thing that nearly all experts agree on is that crowded Arbaeen ceremonies held by the government have played an important role in the spread of Covid. Arbaeen marks the 40th day of Ashura, the annual ceremony that honors the martyrdom Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad and a historical leader for Shiite Muslims.

“According to remarks made by the head of the health commission, the rate of Covid infections among Arbaeen pilgrims is very concerning and, while the fifth peak is not over, it can trigger the sixth peak even earlier than previous forecasts, which was the end of October,” The state-run Hamdeli newspaper reported on October 4.

In the past year, physicians and experts have constantly warned about the threats of crowded religious ceremonies. But the regime officials, especially health minister Bahram Einollahi, have responded to these warnings by downplaying the situation and claiming that most of the population will be vaccinated in short order and the regime will celebrate the end of the outbreak.

But now, it has become clear that all those remarks were an excuse to hold the Arbaeen ceremonies, which have a strategic value for the regime.

Ironically, while regime officials were downplaying the threat of coronavirus and insisting on holding Arbaeen ceremonies, regime supreme leader Ali Khamenei marked the religious ceremony alone and without the attendance of any crowd.

On October 4, the state-run Jomhuri newspaper wrote, “In violation of their duty to prevent the spread of the virus, the health ministry and the National Covid-19 Task Force did nothing to prevent 60,000 Iranians from attending the yearly march to Iraq for Arbaeen. It later became clear that the official number of travelers was 80,000 and the number of Iranians who traveled to Iraq in different ways for the Arbaeen march was up to 180,000.”

What this crowd brought back from the trip to Iraq was a new Covid variant. The Bahar News website reported on October 12, “The provincial governor of Kerman said, ‘Yesterday, the only direct flight from Iraq to Kerman arrived and the coronavirus tests of the Arbaeen pilgrims was very alarming. A large number of the traveler came back with Covid infections.’”

According to the regime’s own media, authorities have not taken enough measures to quarantine infected pilgrims after their return to Iran. As a result, Covid infection has spread across the country.

“One of the health authorities in Khuzestan province has warned that after the return of pilgrims, a big catastrophe is in the making,” Jomhuri reported.

The regime views crowded pilgrimages to Iraq on Arbaeen as a show of power and a manifestation of its influence and clout in Iraq. It uses these shows to embolden its proxies and allies in the neighboring country and to intimidate its rivals and Iraqi politicians who criticize the regime’s meddling in their country. This is especially important for the regime as Iraq nears its next round of elections and the regime’s needs to solidify its influence in the country. And the regime has no reservations to pay the price for its political and regional goals out of the pockets of the Iranian people, whose lives and health are threatened.

This policy fits in the broader context of the regime’s policy to weaponize the coronavirus outbreak as a means to maintain its hold on power. This is why Khamenei described Covid as a “blessing” and an “opportunity.”

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