Iran transforms shrine into a coronavirus mask production facility
Women at the Shah Cheragh are manufacturing face masks to help combat the Covid-19 virus in the Islamic Republic, IFP News reported on Sunday, one of the countries worst-hit by the disease.
Images that were published by the state-owned Fars News Agency showed dozens of women in protective garments sewing the masks under the lavish-decorative dome. The shrine hosts the remains of a number of notable Islamic figures.
The move follows a vow from Iran's ministry of industry, mines and trade to produce 4 million masks a day, in the coming weeks.
"All our productions are being handed over to the ministry of health and are being distributed under the supervision and control of the ministry,” Reza Rehman, the industry minister said, according to local IRNA.
The shrine has been closed to all visitors for several weeks as part of the measures implemented to stem the spread of the virus.
The move to launch a production facility provides a stark contrast with earlier stories of religious authorities and pilgrims to shrines downplaying the threat of coronavirus.
Shocking images emerged of visitors to the holy Muslim sites licking metal grilles surrounding a tomb, in defiance of measures to prevent the virus' spread.
Iran had at the start of the outbreak been vehemently criticised for its refusal to close shrines, with many accusing the Islamic Republic's mishandling of the situation of being the trigger for a wider Middle East outbreak.
Leaked documents strongly suggest that cases in Qom were identified as early as 31 January, linking the government to a cover up.
President Rouhani claimed that 19 February was the first date the government realised cases existed, and precautionary measures to combat the disease were delayed until after 21 February parliamentary elections.
After initially resisting lockdown or quarantine measures, Iran imposed an intercity travel ban late last month until 8 April.
The Covid-19 virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan in December, has killed more than 70,680 people worldwide. Over 1,292,361 infections have been confirmed.
The majority of those infected with Covid-19 experience only mild or moderate symptoms, including fever and a dry cough.
As of yet, there are no known treatments for the virus, though more than 272,501 people have already recovered from the infection.
Iran has been one of the hardest hit countries in the region, with an outbreak that has led to more than 60,500 cases, putting pressure on the strained health service.
Iranian ministers, MPs and generals have also been infected by the virus, including top military commanders in Iran's IRGC forces.