Clerics appealed to officials in Qom to quarantine the city long before any public announcement about the coronavirus crisis — and officials bullied them not into speaking about the outbreak, IranWire has learned.
A Qom seminary student from Najaf in Iraq who spent time in Qom told IranWire that both Iranian clerics and those from Najaf had called for the quarantine, but to no avail. “People are wrong when they say that the clergy did not want Qom to be quarantined,” the seminary student, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “We wanted it but we had no power to enforce it. So we left and returned to Iraq and Iranian clergymen remained silent out of fear. We were accused of wanting to put the regime in peril and told that coronavirus was a western conspiracy.”
The coronavirus outbreak in Qom was officially announced on February 19, one day after the parliamentary elections, but, according to the student, the virus had had already infected people in Qom, including people from the clergy. Officials were aware of this but refused to act.
“I was in Qom for three months,” he said. “From late January the situation was not normal. Many got sick and we said several times that this was not a common cold. We said that the situation was bad and we must do something because it appeared to be coronavirus. But an official in Qom bullied us and we shut up.” He refused to name the official.
Fearing infection by coronavirus, the student returned to Najaf. “The way that the Revolutionary Guards treated the people and the clergy is political and has nothing to do with Islam,” he said. “This city should have been quarantined much earlier but not only was it not quarantined, they also lied about the situation. It is like we are living in the Middle Ages. The Guards are going back to medieval times in the name of Islam.”
According to him, in recent weeks more than 10 clergymen from Najaf have died in Qom, most likely from the coronavirus infection. One of them was Seyed Saleh Hakim, a member of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Saeed al-Hakim’s staff, who died on February 29. “To be honest, we do not know Mr. Hakim’s cause of death,” he said. “He was old. When he fell ill, he had a high fever and could not breathe properly. They took him to a private hospital in Tehran but when the hospital’s medical personnel examined him they refused to hospitalize him. They even refused to return him to Qom in the hospital’s ambulance. He was returned to Qom and died at home.”
It is still not clear how many people have died in Qom as a result of the coronavirus infection but videos of hospitals and the morgue of Behesht Masoumeh Cemetery posted online suggest that the number of fatalities in this province is much higher than figures published by the Ministry of Health.
Burying Coronavirus Victims in Secret
According to the seminary student, many bodies have been buried in secret. “There are so many victims of coronavirus in Qom that, as our friends in the city have told us, they buried a number of them without telling the families about it and later contacted the families and told them where their graves were located,” he said. “The patients also see that other patients are suddenly taken away, never to return.”
A few days ago, Abdul Karim Hosseinzadeh, a member of parliament, reported that bodies were piling up in Qom and in the northern province of Gilan. He warned that if Qom and Rasht, the capital of Gilan, are not quarantined, Iran will have the highest death toll from coronavirus in the world.
Qom, an important and very popular Shia pilgrimage destination, was the first Iranian city to be hit by the coronavirus epidemic but, since it was not quarantined, the epidemic soon spread to other Iranian provinces, including Tehran, Qazvin, Kurdistan, Hormozgan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Khuzestan, Semnan, Lorestan, Yazd, Gilan, Mazandaran, Sistan and Baluchistan, Hamadan, West Azerbaijan, Kerman, Ilam, Zanjan and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari.
It has been 19 days since Iranian officials first announced coronavirus fatalities in Qom, but the city and the Shrine of Masoumeh, a magnet for pilgrims and the clergy, have yet to be quarantined. According to official figures, as of now more than 1,325 have been infected by coronavirus in Qom and the media have reported the names of 13 clergymen and seminary students who have died from the virus. But by now it has become clear that official figures have been released in an attempt to seriously downplay the severity of the infection, not only in Qom but everywhere else as well.
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