Pope Francis’ Iraq Journey Ends, however Coronavirus Fears Stay

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Pope Francis’s three-day go to to Iraq was a boon to the diminishing Christian neighborhood, a lift for the beleaguered Iraqi authorities — and a potential well being hazard, as many individuals discovered social distancing not possible and disregarded masks.

The journey, the primary papal go to to the nation, got here at a weak time. Iraq reported file every day highs of greater than 5,000 infections this week, and its leaders have applied curfews. The nation’s vaccination marketing campaign started solely final week, and plenty of Iraqis are cautious of presidency well being applications, so few within the inhabitants of practically 40 million have obtained even a single shot.

The pope and his entourage have been vaccinated, and the Vatican had dismissed fears that giant occasions in the course of the journey would possibly unfold the virus, saying that precautions can be taken to attenuate threat.

However Iraqis are typically unaccustomed to carrying masks and plenty of dwell and work in crowded situations, so they’re additionally unused to social distancing. After they gathered in giant numbers to see the pope, mask-wearing was removed from common.

The virus is much extra simply transmitted indoors than outside, however most Iraqis wrongly consider that there is no such thing as a outside transmission in any respect. In some cities the place the pope appeared, hundreds of individuals jammed collectively within the streets to await his arrival. At companies, choirs have been typically unmasked.

At a Mass within the city of Qaraqosh, about half the congregation was unmasked. One other service, on Sunday, was held in a stadium in Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional capital. Church officers had mentioned that about 5,000 tickets can be distributed, however Kurdish tv reported that about 10,000 folks attended.

Within the streets of Ankawa, the Christian enclave of Erbil, hundreds of individuals holding flowers and olive branches stood behind plastic tape strung between limitations, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pope as he drove to the stadium. Musicians performed drums and flutes as youngsters danced on the sidewalk.

The pope himself was typically masked, typically not. He didn’t put on one when first arriving in Baghdad. Pictures and a quick video of a gathering with one in every of Iraq’s most revered and weak residents, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, confirmed neither the pope nor the Shiite cleric masked.

Ayatollah Sistani has not been vaccinated, along with his workplace saying he desires to ensure others have entry first. He has declared the vaccine religiously permissible.

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