Iranian cleric, Mohammad Saeedi, called for citizens to continue to visit Qom's main religious sites, despite coronavirus concerns, in a video released yesterday.
Saeedi, who is the head of the Fatima Masumeh shrine – Qom's main Shia holy site – called the shrine a "place of healing" and opposed closing the site for the duration of the outbreak.
"We consider this holy shrine to be a place of healing. That means people should come here to heal from spiritual and physical diseases… but of course, we also exercise caution and comply with health and safety procedures," Saeedi said.
Seyyed Mohammad Saeedi, the representative of Khamenei in #Qom: the epicenter of #cronavirus, "We call this holy shrine (#cronavirus epicenter) Daralshafa, means people come and heal from mental & physical illnesses so they must be open😐😐#irancoronaviruspic.twitter.com/VoJoVHv5ez
— Roj (@RojHat09) February 26, 2020
Iran's government has refused to quarantine cities and has allowed shrines in Qom, which attract millions of Shia pilgrims every year, to remain open. However, officials have asked citizens not to visit the city, which is the site of the deadliest outbreak of the virus outside China.
The Islamic Republic has received international condemnation for obfuscating the extent of the outbreak, with conflicting numbers of cases emerging over the weekend.
Current reports suggest Iran has 245 confirmed cases, with 26 deaths.
In a press conference on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, accused both China and Iran of hiding details of the outbreak, and called on governments to "tell the truth about coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organisations".
President Hassam Rouhani countered by assuring Iranians that his government would be transparent about the scale of the outbreak. Adding that "coronavirus must not be turned into a weapon for our enemies to halt work and production in our country".
Iranian Cyberpolice yesterday detained 24 people accused of scaremongering about the coronavirus outbreak online.
Head of the Iranian police force's cyber unit, Vahid Majid, said "twenty-four people were arrested and handed over to the judiciary and 118 [internet] users were talked to and let go".
Adding that the unit will take action over posts which "contain rumours or fake news meant to disturb the public and increase concern in society".
Watchdog Reports Without Borders (RSF) warned Iran that "respect for the public's right to full, independent, diverse and quality news reporting… is the best way to protect the population and combat rumours".