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Coronavirus: Iran mosques to resume daily prayers amid easing of lockdown

Tehran is taking strict measures to ensure health regulations are observed, including barring people from public transport if they do not wear face masks
Iranians visit Shah Abdol-Azim Shrine in capital Tehran after Iran reopened major Shia shrines earlier this week (AFP)

Government employees went back to work in Iran on Saturday and President Hassan Rouhani said mosques would resume daily prayers across the country, even though some areas were still seeing high levels of coronavirus infections.

Rouhani also said on state television that shopping malls would be able to stay open beyond the 6pm closing time imposed as part of the lockdown, a further step in the government's plans to steadily ease the curbs, Reuters reported.

"Doors to mosques across the country will open to the public for daily prayers," Rouhani said, adding that worshippers should observe social distancing and other health protocols. Still, he did not specify when mosques would reopen.

Religious sites begin to reopen in the Middle East as restrictions ease
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Authorities are taking tougher measures to ensure health regulations are observed, including barring people from buses and metro trains if they do not wear face masks, Iranian media reported.

Alireza Zali, head of the government-led Coronavirus Taskforce of Tehran, told state TV the situation in the capital was "still not favourable", adding that the gradual easing of curbs should be accompanied by a "more serious observance" of the rules.

The worst-affected country in the Middle East, Iran has reported 148,950 infections and 7,734 deaths from Covid-19, according to the latest Health Ministry data.

A ministry spokesman said on Saturday that the southwestern province of Khuzestan was still classified as "red" amid a higher number of infections and deaths, while seven other provinces were at risk.

The health ministry has divided the country into white, yellow and red areas based on the number of cases and fatalities.

Meanwhile, the semi-official Tasnim news agency said Omid Noorafkan, 23, a professional footballer who plays for the Iranian club Sepahan, had tested positive for the virus. It did not give further details about his condition.

Related developments

In related developments, Britain, France and Germany on Saturday strongly condemned a US decision to end sanctions waivers for companies from nations that remain in a nuclear accord with Iran, AFP reported.

The waivers allowed European, Chinese and Russian companies to work on the conversion of a heavy water reactor in Arak, a major industrial city in western Iran.

Also, Iran took Washington to task on Saturday over the killing of a black man by a white police officer that has sparked angry protests nationwide over racial injustice, Reuters said.

"Some don't think #BlackLivesMatter," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter. "To those of us who do: It is long overdue for the entire world to wage war against racism. Time for a #WorldAgainstRacism."