Iran’s major religious sites were closed by the authorities on 16 March

Iran has reopened its major Shia Muslim shrines, two months after they were closed to combat the coronavirus.

Worshippers will be allowed to access courtyards, but not covered areas. They must also wear face masks and abide by social distancing rules.

People were sprayed with disinfectant and had their temperatures checked at Tehran’s Abdol Azim shrine on Monday.

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Iran has suffered the Middle East’s worst Covid-19 outbreak, with 137,000 cases and 7,450 deaths reported.

In recent weeks, the government has begun relaxing restrictions in an attempt to revive an economy that was already in crisis because of US sanctions.

Iran’s Shia shrines are visited every year by tens of millions of pilgrims, who spend many hours praying near the tombs they house. Many also kiss or touch the tombs.

When the holy city of Qom emerged as the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in late February, health experts expressed alarm that the shrine of Hazrat Masumeh was not shut. Its custodian said it should stay open as a “house for cure”.

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On 16 March, as the official death toll approached 1,000, the government ordered the closure of major religious sites, schools and universities to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The decision angered some hardliners, and mobs attempted to break into the shrine of Hazrat Masumeh and also the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad.

On Monday, the shrines were allowed to reopen with some limitations.

An Iranian woman walks through a disinfectant tunnel at Tehran's Abdol Azim shrine on 25 May 2020Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAt Tehran’s Abdol Azim shrine, people had to walk through a disinfection tunnel
A man has his temperature checked at the entrance to Tehran's Abdol Azim shrine on 25 May 2020Image copyrightAFP
Image captionIran’s president has warned that the Covid-19 outbreak is not yet under control

Visitors will have to comply with health ministry guidelines, including wearing face masks and observing social distancing, and bring their own prayer rugs.

The shrines will open one hour after dawn and close one hour before sunset, rather than remain open around the clock.

TV footage showed hundreds of worshippers – some in tears – running into Mashhad’s Imam Reza shrine early on Monday, with officials trying to ensure they observed social distancing.

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At Tehran’s Abdol Azim shrine, people had to walk through a disinfection tunnel and have their temperature checked, according to AFP news agency.

Museums and historical sites reopened on Sunday to coincide with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

In a speech on Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani urged Iranians to continue following health guidelines because “we have not yet reached a point where we can have assurances” that the country’s Covid-19 outbreak is under control.

He said Iran was approaching the “fourth stage” of the fight against the disease, in which the process of identifying and isolating people infected with the coronavirus would be intensified.