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AP PHOTOS: In Qom, where Iran’s epidemic began, the virus is raging

The Iranian holy city of Qom is where Shia scholars study and pilgrims visit a shrine seen as a gateway to heaven

One of the reasons for this is the reluctance of some on the basis of religion. In the early days of the epidemic, religious leaders were reluctant to close shrines and holy places despite the risks of transmitting the virus in overcrowded and insufficiently ventilated spaces.

Some sites closed briefly, but then reopened and remained available during the repeated and violent phases of the pandemic. Across Iran – the Middle Eastern country hardest hit by the pandemic – there have been 5.5 million confirmed viral infections. More than 119,000 people have died, putting enormous pressure on cemeteries across the country. Officials recognize that the toll is likely much higher.

The Behesht-e-Masoumeh cemetery in Qom is the final resting place of thousands of people. Every day, families can be seen crying as they bury their loved ones, wrapped in traditional shrouds. They all dug new graves in which they usually bury the dead very deep in the ground.

Many hospitals are filled with victims, some in medical coma, even as authorities warn of a possible sixth wave of infections hitting the country.

It was in Qom, some 125 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Tehran, that the coronavirus first took hold in Iran. Authorities suggest it was spread by an Iranian businessman who returned from China, where the virus first appeared in Wuhan province in 2019. Shiite seminars in Qom attract Chinese students. The city is also located along a $ 2.7 billion bullet train line that a Chinese company is building and near a solar power plant that Beijing is helping to build.

But whatever the trigger for the pandemic is here, the virus is still raging.

Here is a gallery of images of Qom by Associated Press photographer Vahid Salemi.


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