Workers spray supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr with disinfectant, as they take part in the Friday prayers in Sadr City, east of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Sept. 11, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP)
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq’s mercurial and populist Shi’ite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, resumed Friday prayers for his followers, as the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environment announced over 4,200 new daily infections for the coronavirus.
Iraq has been experiencing a rapid increase in coronavirus cases. It is one of the hardest-hit countries in the Middle East, and on September 4, it recorded over 5,000 cases in a single day—the highest figure, since the disease first appeared in Iraq last February.
Iraq now ranks number 20 in the world in terms of its reported coronavirus cases, according to the highly regarded Johns Hopkins University data base (Iran, the epicenter of the disease in the Middle East, ranks number 12.)
Nonetheless, Sadr announced on Wednesday that he would conduct communal prayers on Friday. Iraq’s health care system is strained from decades of conflict and neglect, and Sadr’s followers are among the poorer segments of society. They are likely to suffer most, as the virus spreads. Still, thousand of worshippers attended his sermon earlier today.
Some six months ago, the Iraqi government prohibited the holding of Friday prayers, because of the coronavirus. The government has not changed that order, but Sadr, and his followers, chose to disregard it.
Latest Iraqi Statistics
The Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environment announced over 4,200 new daily infections on Friday. It reported that it had conducted 23,168 tests over the past 24 hours, making for a total of 1,864,099 tests conducted since the first case in Iraq was confirmed in February.
According to the ministry’s statement, the total number of people across the country who have contracted the disease has reached 282,672, 7,881 of whom have died.
The resumption of sermons by the Sadrists comes at a time, when Iraqi health authorities have warned that they are in danger of “losing control” over the virus, following the religious rites for Ashura, the Shi’ite holiday that marks the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson.
Iraq has been experiencing a high daily infection rate, ranging between 4,000 and 5,000 new cases.
Nonetheless, it has recently begun to take steps towards returning life to a semblance of normality by removing some of the coronavirus health restrictions. Health officials around the world have warned that such moves must be made with extreme caution, if further mass outbreaks are to be avoided.
Even countries with advanced medical systems, like Spain and France, have experienced great difficulties, as they try to re-open, without triggering a spike in cases. On Thursday, Israel, which has faced the same problem, announced that it would impose a second, nation-wide lockdown next week.
Editing by Laurie Mylroie