The first day of October hailed an alarming new stage in Iran’s battle with the coronavirus pandemic as, with 3,825 new cases logged in 24 hours, the country broke its single-day record for new infections.
The officially recorded death toll also rose by 211 souls to 26,380.
It falls a week before an important date in the Shia calendar: one that some among the devout have taken as a sign.
Kazem Sadighi, Tehran’s acting Friday Imam, pronounced the coronavirus a calamity visited upon the world by God and a consequence of “our sins”.
“These days and nights,” he intoned, “We must ponder what we have done that at the time Arba’een, the doors of Imam Hossein’s shrine have been closed to us.”
The Shia holy day of Arba’een marks 40 days since the date of Imam Hussein’s martyrdom in the Islamic lunar calendar.
This year, it falls on October 8 and traditionally would be observed by thousands of Shia pilgrims traveling to Karbala in Iraq to pray at his shrine.
But this year, in an effort to halt the spread of coronavirus, the Iraqi government has banned entry by foreign pilgrims.
Pictures and videos have been posted online in recent days showing a number of pilgrims rushing the border with Iraq and clashing with border guards in a bid to reach and enter the shrine.
Since then Islamic Republic officials have repeatedly told the people that this year’s Arba’een processions are canceled.
Even the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has asked Iranians to stay home.
Land borders between Iraq and Iran have been closed for more than seven months since the outbreak and save for a few exceptions, no traveler is permitted to cross the border between the two countries.