Coronavirus warnings snubbed by worshippers in Iran still licking holy shrines

Worshippers in Iran have been shunning coronavirus warnings by licking a holy shrine.

Iran's death toll from coronavirus is higher than any other country with confirmed cases – except China, where the outbreak began.

It has prompted authorities to cancel some prayers in Tehran – while some worshippers have been filmed continuing their religious dedications – even licking holy shrines.

Clips shared on social media showed people defying warnings by licking the Masumeh shrine, despite the Health Ministry saying people should avoid touching or kissing any surfaces – which is a common practice for pilgrims.

Religious leaders have been criticised for failing to close holy sites in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

Journalist Masih Alinejed, who tweeted the clips, said that keeping the sites open was 'endangering the lives of Iranians and the world'.

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Each day in Iran, trucks filled with disinfectants spray down streets, shrines, public parks, trash bins, public toilets and markets in Qom, Tehran and other areas that have had cases of infection.

People living in such areas have said the smell of disinfectants has become a "nightmare".

Retired teacher Ziba Rezaie, 62, from Qom, said: "The city smells like a cemetery, a morgue."

Last week, Iran's vice-president was been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi was also confirmed as having the disease after he appeared ill on stage during a press conference about the virus.

He was seen continually wiping perspiration from his forehead before being diagnosed just hours later.

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Now, Ebtekar, vice-president for women and family affairs, has also been confirmed as suffering from the virus.

It is believed she will now self-isolate and begin medication – a course of action Iraj Harirchi said he had taken on Tuesday.

Harirchi said in a video released online: "I had a fever as of last night and my preliminary test was positive around midnight.

"I've isolated myself in a place since… and now I am starting medication.

"We will definitely be victorious against this virus in the next few weeks."

In the UK, Matt Hancock yesterday refused to rule out putting British cities on lockdown, in an echo of how China looked to first contain the virus to its Wuhan epicentre.

Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr programme, he said: "There is clearly a huge economic and social downside to (shutting down cities).

"But we don't take anything off the table at this stage because you have to make sure you have all the tools available if that is what is necessary."

He added that it was now "inevitable" that the deadly virus would "become endemic" in the UK as it was announced on Sunday that 13 more cases of Covid-19 had been diagnosed.

It brings the total number of people to have contracted coronavirus in the UK to 36, with Scotland declaring its first case.

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