Iraq to bar pilgrims over COVID-19 fears

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq is to bar entry to religious pilgrims to the country, its government health committee said in a statement on Monday, just weeks ahead of a Shi’ite Muslim pilgrimage which is the largest annual religious gathering in the world.

Arbaeen, due in early October, usually draws millions of people to the holy city of Kerbala.

The virus is spreading in Iraq faster than most countries in the Middle East, as it records several thousand new cases every day. More than 8,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Iraq and more than 300,000 have been infected, according to the Health Ministry.

“The committee … decided to ban the entry of (religious) visitors from any country in the world,” the statement said.

It gave no further details about travel to and from Iraq for other visitors, and did not say how long the ban would last or when it would be implemented.

The statement said places of worship would be opened provided they adhere to health and safety standards over the coronavirus pandemic.

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