A Lack Of Vigilance Before The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Faults Underlying Exercise Vigilant Guard

Story by: (Author NameStaff Sgt. Raymond Drumsta – 138th Public Affairs Detachment

Dated: Thu, Nov 5, 2009

This map illustrates the earthquake fault lines in Western New York. An earthquake in the region is a likely event, says University of Buffalo Professor Dr. Robert Jacobi.

TONAWANDA, NY — An earthquake in western New York, the scenario that Exercise Vigilant Guard is built around, is not that far-fetched, according to University of Buffalo geology professor Dr. Robert Jacobi.

When asked about earthquakes in the area, Jacobi pulls out a computer-generated state map, cross-hatched with diagonal lines representing geological faults.

The faults show that past earthquakes in the state were not random, and could occur again on the same fault systems, he said.

“In western New York, 6.5 magnitude earthquakes are possible,” he said.

This possibility underlies Exercise Vigilant Guard, a joint training opportunity for National Guard and emergency response organizations to build relationships with local, state, regional and federal partners against a variety of different homeland security threats including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks.

The exercise was based on an earthquake scenario, and a rubble pile at the Spaulding Fibre site here was used to simulate a collapsed building. The scenario was chosen as a result of extensive consultations with the earthquake experts at the University of Buffalo’s Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), said Brig. Gen. Mike Swezey, commander of 53rd Troop Command, who visited the site on Monday.

Earthquakes of up to 7 magnitude have occurred in the Northeastern part of the continent, and this scenario was calibrated on the magnitude 5.9 earthquake which occurred in Saguenay, Quebec in 1988, said Jacobi and Professor Andre Filiatrault, MCEER director.

“A 5.9 magnitude earthquake in this area is not an unrealistic scenario,” said Filiatrault.

Closer to home, a 1.9 magnitude earthquake occurred about 2.5 miles from the Spaulding Fibre site within the last decade, Jacobi said. He and other earthquake experts impaneled by the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada in 1997 found that there’s a 40 percent chance of 6.5 magnitude earthquake occurring along the Clareden-Linden fault system, which lies about halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, Jacobi added.

Jacobi and Filiatrault said the soft soil of western New York, especially in part of downtown Buffalo, would amplify tremors, causing more damage.

“It’s like jello in a bowl,” said Jacobi.

The area’s old infrastructure is vulnerable because it was built without reinforcing steel, said Filiatrault. Damage to industrial areas could release hazardous materials, he added.

“You’ll have significant damage,” Filiatrault said.

Exercise Vigilant Guard involved an earthquake’s aftermath, including infrastructure damage, injuries, deaths, displaced citizens and hazardous material incidents. All this week, more than 1,300 National Guard troops and hundreds of local and regional emergency response professionals have been training at several sites in western New York to respond these types of incidents.

Jacobi called Exercise Vigilant Guard “important and illuminating.”

“I’m proud of the National Guard for organizing and carrying out such an excellent exercise,” he said.

Training concluded Thursday.

Preparing for Pestilence Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Will the Gaza Strip be able to cope with a COVID-19 outbreak?

AL-MUKALLA: The World Health Organization has increased distribution of vital medical gear and test kits and placed health teams on heightened alert to help Yemen’s fragile health system cope with the potential outbreak of COVID-19, the organization’s representative in Yemen Altaf Musani said.

“We need to ensure that we are prepared locally. Yemen currently has no cases of COVID-19, but we are scaling up preparedness and response efforts in the event a case is confirmed,” Musani told Arab News in an email interview.

Despite confirmation from local and international health officials that the war-torn country has not yet recorded a single case of the virus, the UN official warned that the virus could overwhelm Yemen’s understaffed and poorly equipped health facilities.

“Health system is functioning at 50 percent of its capacity in Yemen,” Musani said. “If the public does not understand what COVID-19 is and how to protect themselves, an introduction of the disease here will overrun hospitals and health facilities and pull health care workers away from people who are severely ill and in need of treatment.”

The WHO, along with the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, are part of the government-led committee tasked with handling preparations for the virus. Inside Houthi-controlled territories, the WHO is also cooperating with health officials to make sure that facilities are able to stem the spread of the disease.

“The WHO has ensured that surveillance and laboratory preparedness are in place,”

Musani said. “The PCR thermocycler at the central public health laboratory in Sanaa and another in Aden have been calibrated, and a test run was performed to ensure COVID-19 can be detected.”

He added that the WHO has helped local health authorities in Al-Mukalla calibrate another PCR machine.

Musani said that 200 tests had already been delivered to Sanaa, while 300 were delivered to Aden.

Rumors quickly circulated on social media about new cases of the virus in Yemen, fueling mass hysteria and prompting the WHO to establish a team to investigate.

“Over 1,600 health workers forming 333 health rapid response teams are actively investigating rumors on COVID-19 cases,” Musani said. “The WHO and UNICEF’s Communication for Development are also collaborating on rumor-tracking. These teams have been trained in surveillance, case investigation, case reporting, contact listing and contact tracing.”

HIGHLIGHT

The WHO, along with the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, are part of the government-led committee tasked with handling preparations for the virus. Inside Houthi-controlled territories, the WHO is also cooperating with health officials to make sure that facilities are able to stem the spread of the disease.

The UN has characterized the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the worst in the world. Most of the country’s population is in dire need of assistance and protection. The health system could not cope with outbreaks of dengue fever, cholera and other diseases. The arrival of COVID-19 to Yemen would exacerbate the situation, according to Musani.

“Half of health facilities and hospitals across the country cannot be counted on because they don’t exist. Over 60 percent of the 333 districts in Yemen are considered vulnerable. In a population of 30 million, 18 million are considered severely vulnerable and lacking access to health services and healthcare,” Musani said.

Over the last several days, Yemen’s government in Aden has taken further measures to prevent the spread of the disease, including the closure of schools, airports and recently mosques. Weddings and other cultural events have been banned.

The UN official hailed any effort by Yemen authorities to help contain the spread of the virus.

“Since COVID-19 took center stage globally, the WHO here in Yemen has been vigilant in supporting the local health authorities across the country by taking urgent and essential measures such as screening people at points of entry. We are rapidly scaling up our preparedness to fight COVID-19 should it cross over and into Yemen,” Musani said.

French Nuclear Hegemony in Europe (Daniel 7:7)

March 2020

By Shannon Bugos

French President Emmanuel Macron offered to begin discussing with other European countries the role that France’s nuclear deterrent can play in their collective security.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks in France on Feb. 18. Citing a decline in multilateralism, he proposed earlier in the month that France’s nuclear weapons provide a larger role for European security. (Photo: Jean-Francois Badias/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

France’s nuclear forces “strengthen the security of Europe through their very existence,” Macron said at the military school École de Guerre in Paris on Feb. 7. An erosion of “the comprehensive security framework” that protects Europe affects France’s defense strategy, he said, which means that “France’s vital interests now have a European dimension.” France’s nuclear deterrence “ensures our independence, our freedom to assess, make decisions, and take action. It prevents adversaries from betting on escalation, intimidation, and blackmailing to achieve their ends,” he said before extending the offer.

At the same time, Macron argued that the international community must limit the role of nuclear deterrence to “extreme circumstances of self-defense,” with the overall goal of preventing war.

“France’s nuclear doctrine strictly adheres to this framework,” he said. France currently has about 300 nuclear weapons in its arsenal.

During his address, Macron outlined three “paradigm shifts” underway in the world. The first he described as strategic, in which “a new hierarchy of powers” is emerging and bringing with it the heightened risk of conflict and military escalation due to competition.

The challenging of “a multilateral order based on law” defines the second paradigm shift, he said, illustrated by the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty last August. (See ACT, September 2019.) “Europeans must collectively realize today that, without a legal framework, they could quickly find themselves at risk of another conventional and even nuclear arms race on their soil,” Macron said. “They cannot stand by.”

The final shift involves the emergence of new technologies and their potential role in conflict. All of these paradigm shifts, he said, demand that the world think about what the future of war will look like. Macron suggested that the heads of state of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) convene in order “to fully discharge [their] mandate to maintain peace and international security” in this changing landscape.

Macron presented a four-pillared strategy for confronting these paradigm shifts and achieving peace. The first pillar he called the “promotion of an efficient multilateralism,” to include an increased investment in defense by European countries and a renewed international arms control agenda.

Regarding arms control, the president urged Europe to “rethink disarmament” so that it contributes to international security and highlighted France’s “unique track record in the world,” given its irreversible dismantlement of land-based nuclear weapons, nuclear testing facilities, and fissile material.

The next two pillars Macron described were the development of strategic alliances focused on promoting peace and security and the establishment of greater European autonomy.

Macron dubbed national sovereignty as the final pillar, saying, “if France is to live up to its ambition and its history, it must remain sovereign.”

The Upcoming Nuclear Winter (Revelation 8:12)

Global Famine Predicted in Even a Limited India-Pakistan Nuclear War Due to Soot and Firestorms

Mar 22, 2020

Average changes in maize yield in the five years following a nuclear war between Pakistan and India. Credit: Adapted from Jägermeyr et al., 2020

Soot from firestorms would reduce crop production for years.

The concept of nuclear winter — a years-long planetary freeze brought on by airborne soot generated by nuclear bombs — has been around for decades. But such speculations have been based largely on back-of-the-envelope calculations involving a total war between Russia and the United States. Now, a new multinational study incorporating the latest models of global climate, crop production and trade examines the possible effects of a less gargantuan but perhaps more likely exchange between two longtime nuclear-armed enemies: India and Pakistan. It suggests that even a limited war between the two would cause unprecedented planet-wide food shortages and probable starvation lasting more than a decade. The study appears this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Of an estimated 14,000 nuclear warheads worldwide, close to 95 percent belong to the United States and Russia. India and Pakistan are thought to have about 150 each. The study examines the potential effects if they were to each set off 50 Hiroshima-size bombs — less than 1 percent of the estimated world arsenal.

In addition to direct death and destruction, the authors say that firestorms following the bombings would launch some 5 million tons of soot toward the stratosphere. There, it would spread globally and remain, absorbing sunlight and lowering global mean temperatures by about 1.8 degrees C (3.25 F) for at least five years. The scientists project that this would in turn cause production of the world’s four main cereal crops — maize, wheat, soybeans and rice — to plummet an average 11 percent over that period, with tapering effects lasting another five to 10 years.

Farmers in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh separate rice from chaff. Credit: Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute

“Even this regional, limited war would have devastating indirect implications worldwide,” said Jonas Jägermeyr, a postdoctoral scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies who led the study. “It would exceed the largest famine in documented history.”

According to the study, crops would be hardest hit in the northerly breadbasket regions of the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia and China. But paradoxically, southerly regions would suffer much more hunger. That is because many developed nations in the north produce huge surpluses, which are largely exported to nations in the Global South that are barely able to feed themselves. If these surpluses were to dry up, the effects would ripple out through the global trade system. The authors estimate that some 70 largely poor countries with a cumulative population of 1.3 billion people would then see food supplies drop more than 20 percent.

Some adverse effects on crops would come from shifts in precipitation and solar radiation, but the great majority would stem from drops in temperature, according to the study. Crops would suffer most in countries north of 30 degrees simply because temperatures there are lower and growing seasons shorter to begin with. Even modest declines in growing-season warmth could leave crops struggling to mature, and susceptible to deadly cold snaps. As a result, harvests of maize, the world’s main cereal crop, could drop by nearly 20 percent in the United States, and an astonishing 50 percent in Russia. Wheat and soybeans, the second and third most important cereals, would also see steep declines. In southerly latitudes, rice might not suffer as badly, and cooler temperatures might even increase maize harvests in parts of South America and Africa. But this would do little to offset the much larger declines in other regions, according to the study.

Since many developed countries produce surpluses for export, their excess production and reserves might tide them over for at least a few years before shortages set in. But this would come at the expense of countries in the Global South. Developed nations almost certainly would impose export bans in order to protect their own populations, and by year four or five, many nations that today already struggle with malnutrition would see catastrophic drops in food availability. Among those the authors list as the hardest hit: Somalia, Niger, Rwanda, Honduras, Syria, Yemen, and Bangladesh.

If nuclear weapons continue to exist, “they can be used with tragic consequences for the world,” said study co-author Alan Robock, a climatologist at Rutgers University who has long studied the potential effects of nuclear war. “As horrible as the direct effects of nuclear weapons would be, more people could die outside the target areas due to famine.”

Previously, Jägermeyr has studied the potential effects of global warming on agriculture, which most scientists agree will suffer badly. But, he said, a sudden nuclear-caused cooling would hit food systems far worse. And, looking backward, the effects on food availability would be four times worse than any previously recorded global agriculture upsets caused by droughts, floods, or volcanic eruptions, he said.

The study might be erring on the conservative side. For one, India and Pakistan may well have bombs far bigger than the ones the scientists use in their assumptions. For another, the study leaves India and Pakistan themselves out of the crop analyses, in order to avoid mixing up the direct effects of a war with the indirect ones. That aside, Jägermeyr said that one could reasonably assume that food production in the remnants of the two countries would drop essentially to zero. The scientists also did not factor in the possible effects of radioactive fallout, nor the probability that floating soot would cause the stratosphere to heat up at the same time the surface was cooling. This would, in turn, cause stratospheric ozone to dissipate, and similar to the effects of now-banned refrigerants, this would admit more ultraviolet rays to the earth’s surface, damaging humans and agriculture even more.

Much attention has been focused recently on North Korea’s nuclear program, and the potential for Iran or other countries to start up their own arsenals. But many experts have long regarded Pakistan and India as the most dangerous players, because of their history of near-continuous conflict over territory and other issues. India tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974, and when Pakistan followed in 1998, the stakes grew. The two countries have already had four full-scale conventional wars, in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999, along with many substantial skirmishes in between. Recently, tensions over the disputed region of Kashmir have flared again.

“We’re not saying a nuclear conflict is around the corner. But it is important to understand what could happen,” said Jägermeyr.

Reference: “A regional nuclear conflict would compromise global food security” by Jonas Jägermeyr, Alan Robock, Joshua Elliott, Christoph Müller, Lili Xia, Nikolay Khabarov, Christian Folberth, Erwin Schmid, Wenfeng Liu, Florian Zabel, Sam S. Rabin, Michael J. Puma, Alison Heslin, James Franke, Ian Foster, Senthold Asseng, Charles G. Bardeen, Owen B. Toon and Cynthia Rosenzweig, 16 March 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1919049117

The paper was coauthored by a total of 19 scientists from five countries, including three others from Goddard, which is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute: Michael Puma, Alison Heslin and Cynthia Rosenzweig. Jägermeyr also has affiliations with the University of Chicago and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The Iraq War and the Opening of the Prophecy

17th Anniversary of The US Invasion of Iraq Goes Unnoticed Despite The Loss of a Million Lives

Published March 23rd, 2020 – 11:38 GMT

Last week saw the seventeenth anniversary of the ill-fated US-led invasion of Iraq that led to the reported deaths of millions of Iraqis, the destruction of much of the country’s infrastructure, and the establishment of an unstable democratic system.

Iraq’s political system has been fraught with instability and has incubated almost two decades of corruption leading to several protest movements and the rise of violent Islamist militant groups, including many Shia militias who operate as part of the state security apparatus.

The Islamic State group was also born out of the sectarianism and violence that has been emblematic of the Iraqi political process since 2003, which has seen a succession of weak governments and a legislature divided along sectarian quotas.

Today’s protest movement – ongoing since October of last year – has aimed to disrupt the cycle of corrupt political appointments, nepotism, and political actors who are beholden to both Iran and the United States.

With the appointment of the second prime minister-designate in as many months, Iraq is now facing an unprecedented political crisis that has been exacerbated by the global coronavirus pandemic.

Under former President George W. Bush, the United States led a “coalition of the willing” – including the United Kingdom led by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair – into war against Iraq in 2003.

The invasion led to the destruction of the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein and the installation of a Western-sponsored governing council that eventually made way for elections to set up a nominally democratic government.

The invasion itself did not come without a great price being paid, primarily by the Iraqi people. According to the Lancet, which published the results of a study on fatalities in 2006, more than 650,000 Iraqis lost their lives up until the time of the study. ORB International, a London-based polling agency, put the figure at 1.2 million people in 2007, although ORB’s figures have since been discounted.

Nevertheless, if more than half a million Iraqis died in the three years following the invasion, it is not implausible that in the subsequent years leading to the US’ first withdrawal in 2011 hundreds of thousands of others were similarly killed or died as a result of secondary factors related to the war, such as a dearth in medical supplies and the activities of sectarian Shia death squads who played an enormous role in violence in Iraq alongside groups like Al-Qaeda between 2006 and 2008.

With the advent of the Islamic State (IS) group, Iraq was once again hurled into violence that saw the Iraqi military routed by the jihadists and the return of US forces in 2014, this time leading an anti-IS coalition. The coalition not only provided airpower to the Iraqi military, but also to Iran-backed Shia militants who had come together under the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) after a fatwa from Shia Islam’s highest spiritual authority Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

The defeat of IS in 2016 did not lead to the withdrawal of American and allied troops, but a flare up affecting relations between Iran and the US on the subject of Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme affected domestic Iraqi affairs greatly.

While nominally independent, the Iraqi authorities have been influenced by both the United States and Iran, particularly the latter, and the PMF were formally recognised as a formal branch of the Iraqi armed forces in the same year IS was defeated.

The tensions between Tehran and Washington resulted in tit-for-tat attacks on bases housing US troops by PMF-linked Shia fighters, and the barracks and depots of PMF fighters targeted by US airpower. These attacks ultimately lead to the assassination of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander, Major General Qasem Soleimani, in Iraq earlier this year by way of an American drone strike.

With the Iraqi government incapable of defying either the US government or the Iranian regime, and in light of almost two decades of corruption that had reduced living standards and eroded human rights in Iraq, the Iraqi people erupted into nationwide protests in October last year.

The demonstrators have called for the collapse of the political process, free and fair elections comprised of candidates who are not connected to the existing order, and for officials embroiled in allegations of corruption and human rights abuses to be held to account.

While powerless to stop the United States and Iran, the Iraqi government and allied pro-Iran militias have shown that they are willing to exercise violent power to suppress the Iraqi protests, killing more than 700 protesters in the span of five months. The demonstrators have shown remarkable resilience, however, and protests continue unabated, even given the advent of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

As events in Iraq continue to be largely influenced by both Iran and the US, it remains to be seen what long-term impact this protest movement will have on the course the country will chart in the coming months and years.

However, it is certainly seen as a serious threat to the existence of the current political system, particularly as the majority of protesters are from the Shia Arab demographic who are traditionally the voter base most of the dominant Shia Islamist parties draw their electoral wins from.

n the midst of all these developments and the viral outbreak in the country, the United States-led coalition has announced that it will be redeploying its troops from some Iraqi bases. The announcement came in the immediate aftermath of yet another rocket attack by Iran-sponsored militants targeting Western forces in Iraq.

Western troops would handover control to Iraqi forces of three bases in Iraq, including Qaim near the Iraq-Syria border, as well as in Qayyarah and Kirkuk, both in northern Iraq. Hundreds of these troops would be moved to neighbouring Syria, while others would be redeployed to other bases in Iraq or even Kuwait.

The move came following a series of rocket attacks orchestrated by pro-Tehran Shia militant groups and retaliatory airstrikes by the US-led coalition that saw a number of combatants on both sides lose their lives.

The attacks began with a barrage of rockets slamming into the Camp Taji base in central Iraq, which led to the deaths of two Americans and one British soldier. Hours after that attack, aircraft believed to belong to the United States attacked Iraqi PMF bases in Syria, killing 26 fighters and wounding dozens more. The US denied responsibility for that attack.

However, Washington claimed responsibility for a retaliation that took place in Iraq itself that targeted arms dumps and supplies depots belonging to Kataib Hezbollah, a faction within the PMF. The attack killed six Iraqis, including one civilian.

The coalition’s retaliations led to grumblings of vengeance from the Iran-backed but Iraq-sanctioned Shia militants and, true enough to their word, elements from the PMF again launched a rocket barrage at Camp Taji just north of the capital Baghdad. A third attack was launched on the Besmaya base south of Baghdad, bringing the grand total to three attacks inside a week against US-led forces.

The back-and-forth violence between the US military and the PMF technically mean that both the US and Iraq are killing each other’s soldiers. As the PMF are a formal branch of the Iraqi armed forces, ratified by a parliamentary bill in 2016, any attack on them is therefore an attack against the security forces of Iraq.

Nevertheless, the Iraqi government has largely remained silent for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the country has been effectively without a head of government since former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned late last year as a result of the protest movement.

Since Abdul Mahdi’s resignation, two other candidates have been put forward to find some sort of consensus and to form a new government. The first of these was Mohammed Allawi who was nominated as prime minister-designate in February. Before March was out, however, he had resigned due to an inability to form a government and President Barham Salih had named Adnan al-Zurfi, the former governor of Najaf, as his successor.

Zurfi faces a number of problems, including the fact that he is seen by many lawmakers who have close ties to Iran as being too close to the American administration. As the Iraqi parliament is heavily fractured with no one party dominating, this means that he will find it incredibly arduous to build consensus between the different factions.

Another problem he faces is the fact that the Iraqi protest movement sees him as a member of the political elite they wish to hurl out of office, one way or another. He therefore may lack legitimacy in a country whose last elections attracted less than a 45 percent turnout.

With Iraqis more and more showing they have no faith in their country’s democracy, and with authorities using ever increasing violence against demonstrators, the lack of a stable government could be a harbinger of even greater chaos to come, 17 years after Iraqis were promised liberty and democracy by the United States.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

Via SyndiGate.info

Copyright @ 2020 The New Arab.

The Iranian horn isolates itself despite the plague

Coronavirus: Iran Supreme Leader rejects US help as death toll exceeds 1,600

Khamenei described US leaders as ‘charlatans and liars’ and implied they were behind the epidemic

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rejected an offer from the US to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, pas the the death toll from the virus reached 1,685.

In a televised speech, Khamenei described the US as being led by “charlatans and liars,” adding the country was the “wicked, sinister enemy of Iran”.

“Several times Americans have offered to help us to fight the pandemic. That is strange because you face shortages in America. Also you are accused of creating this virus,” said Khamenei.

“I do not know whether it is true. But when there is such an allegation, can a wise man trust you and accept your help offer? You could be giving medicines to Iran that spread the virus or cause it to remain permanently.”

Khamenei did not further expand on the claims that the United States deliberately created the virus. While a number of conspiracy theories have circulated since the Covid-19 virus began spreading, there has been no compelling evidence that its spread was caused by a particular political entity.

His comments come as Iran on Sunday announced 129 new deaths caused by the novel coronavirus, raising to 1,685 the official death toll in one of the worst-hit countries along with Italy and China.

Health ministry spokesman Kianouche Jahanpour said more than 1,028 new cases had been recorded in the past 24 hours in the country, with a total of 21,638 people having now tested positive for the virus.

Iran frees French researcher in apparent prisoner swap for jailed engineer

Washington has offered humanitarian assistance to Iran, despite tensions between the two countries running high since 2018, when US President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

China, a party to Iran’s nuclear deal, has urged the United States to lift sanctions on Iran immediately amid Tehran’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

But the United States sent Iran a blunt message this week: the spread of the virus will not save it from US sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.

Khamenei, who because of the outbreak cancelled on 20 March his annual speech for the Persian new year from the holy Shia Muslim city of Mashhad, said Iran would triumph over the virus.

“The Islamic Republic has the capability to overcome any kind of crisis and challenges, including the coronavirus outbreak,” said Khamenei, who called on people to stay at home.

While many Iranians avoided travelling during the Persian new year holiday, police said millions have defied warnings issued by officials to avoid unnecessary trips aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

The office of Tehran’s governor said all shopping centres will be closed in the capital from Sunday.

“Only pharmacies and shops that provide essential goods will remain open in Tehran,” Iranian state TV reported.

Iraqi Health Ministry Urges Antichrist To Back Coronavirus Measures

Iraqi health ministry urges Moqtada Al Sadr to back coronavirus measures

Iraqis walk in an empty street in Baghdad on March 22, 2020 amid a curfew to help fight the spread of Covid-19. AP Photo

Iraq’s Health Ministry, struggling to contain the outbreak of Covid-19, appealed on Sunday to influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr to endorse a 14-day self-quarantine after thousands ignored its advice to mark a religious occasion.

Iraq has reported 233 cases and 17 deaths from the coronavirus, but many believe the numbers could be much higher as only about 2,000 people have been tested out of 40 million.

The government imposed a week-long curfew and lockdown across Iraq on Monday to prevent transmission of the virus.

On Sunday it extended the curfew until 11pm on March 28. Authorities have also banned all travel between provinces.

Iraqi Health Minister Jaafar Allawi called on Mr Al Sadr to urge people to comply with the ministry’s instructions to self-isolate for 14 days, the ministry said on Sunday.

We have sent a letter to Moqtada Al Sadr, setting out efforts to address the threat of coronavirus and prevent the spread of this serious epidemic in the country,” it said.

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr delivers a speech to his supporters. AFP

Mr Al Sadr last week urged his supporters to take part in an annual procession to the Imam Musa Al Kadhim’s mosque in Baghdad.

They took to the streets in half of Iraq’s 18 provinces on Saturday to mark the imam’s death in 799.

Videos circulated on social media showed hundreds of pilgrims taking part.

Iraqi Shiite pilgrims stage a procession in the southern city of Nasiriyah to mark the death anniversary of Imam Mousa Al Kadhim on March 21, 2020. AFP

Pilgrims from around the world come to visit and kiss the imam’s shrine, including from neighbouring Iran.

Iran is battling one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks with nearly 22,000 cases and more than 1,600 deaths as of Sunday.

But this year flights to and from Iraq are suspended until at least next Saturday because of the virus, and all border crossings outside the semi-automous Kurdish region have been closed.

The situation in the country is “severe and the public must listen to our instructions”, an official from the health ministry told The National.

He warned against public gatherings “because of the great risk of spreading the virus”.

Iranian workers set a temporary emergency hospital in a part of the world’s largest shopping mall complex called ‘Iran Mall’. EPA

On Friday, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, urged followers against gathering in large numbers for prayers.

Like many other countries in the region, Iraq has suspended prayers at mosques.

Mr Al Sistani urged Muslims to abide by medical advice on social distancing, but did not advise pilgrims to stay home.

His and the ministry’s calls have done little to convince the public to isolate themselves.

“We don’t even have a proper government, why should we stop our religious pilgrimage and stay home?” asked student Ali Khadim, 24, from Baghdad.

Thousands have taken to the streets and “we will not stay away”, Mr Khadim said.

The UN envoy to Iraq on Sunday added her voice to appeals for the public to follow health precautions.

“In recent days we have noticed that some people are unnecessarily breaking the curfew and some people are not fully abiding by instructions,” Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said in Baghdad.

“To those, I would like to say you are endangering yourself, your families, your loved ones and the community.

“Mass gatherings should not take place and this includes sports, cultural events and religious gatherings.”

Up to 25 per cent of the population are defying government calls and are trying to perform their pilgrimage, Ali Al Bayati, a member of the country’s Human Rights Commission, told The National.

“Some people were arrested and given penalties for being outdoors and contributing to the spread of the disease,” Mr Al Bayati said.

Government institutions must make greater efforts to raise health awareness and design programmes on precautions and risks related to the virus, as this is one of the main problems, he said.

Updated: March 23, 2020 01:11 AM