TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran on Monday reopened major shrines across the Islamic Republic, more than two months after they were closed because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
At Tehran’s Shah Abdol-Azim shrine, worshipers had to wear a mask, walk through a disinfection tunnel and have their temperature checked as they began returning from the early morning.
The Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad in northeast Iran and the Fatima Masumeh shrine and Jamkaran mosque in the holy city of Qom also reopened while observing health protocols, state news agency IRNA reported.
They are allowed to open starting from an hour after dawn until an hour before dusk.
Worshipers were seen crying and running towards Imam Reza’s shrine as they were guided by attendants.
In a statement on its website, the shrine said visitors must observe health requirements such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, and bring their own prayer mats, books and other accessories.
Shrines were closed alongside schools, universities and all non-vital businesses in March after Iran reported its first two coronavirus deaths in Qom in late February.
Iran has allowed a phased reopening of its economy and gradual relaxation of restrictions since early April, with a further easing expected in the coming days despite a recent uptick in new cases.
Businesses in Iran, including those deemed as high risk, should resume work Tuesday, the head of the Tehran Chamber of Trade Unions told IRNA.
The advice is based on guidance from the government’s coronavirus task force, according to Qassem Nodeh Farahani, head of the trade body.
The so-called high-risk businesses include restaurants, cafes, gyms, saunas and wedding halls, Nodeh Farahani said, adding that they have to keep abiding by social-distancing rules.
On Sunday, President Hassan Rouhani said all workers in the country will return to work next Saturday. "We can say we have passed the three stages regarding the coronavirus,” he said.
The first stage was announcing the disease and mobilizing the country’s capacities to rein in the outbreak. The second phase involved controlling the disease through social distancing measures and the third required smart distancing accompanied by gradual re-opening of the country, he explained.
"Of course, there are still places that need work in the third phase. Now, it is the fourth stage, namely the coronavirus containment phase, for managing and countering the coronavirus,” Rouhani said.
The virus containment phase has already begun in 10 out of the country’s 31 provinces where the situation is better and screening will intensify while infected patients will be separated from the rest of the population, he added.
Rouhani also said Iran’s medical centers are witnessing a unique trend where the mortality rate is declining compared to the number of infections and hospital stays are becoming shorter.
According to the president, 88 percent of the COVID-19 patients who have died suffered from one or more underlying diseases.
Illegal U.S. sanctions have hampered the virus battle in Iran, which reported its first COVID-19 infection cases in late February.