Watch: Religious believers meet at night in secret in Iran's Qom despite coronavirus

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Religious believers in Iran’s Shia holy city of Qom have been gathering in secret at night with disregard to the country’s social distancing rules, according to a video circulating on social media.

Qom was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, which has killed 5,031 and infected 80,686 across the country. The city is a religious center for Shia Muslims worldwide and is home to several shrines and pilgrimage sites.

Despite Iranian authorities' attempts to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control by imposing restrictions on movement, the latest video to surface online shows topless men beating their chests in close proximity to one another.

“We have witnessed an increase in the number of people visiting health centers and hospitals in recent days [in Qom],” the head of Qom's medical sciences university Mohammadreza Ghadir said on Saturday.

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Social media users speculated that this increase may be linked to the secret gatherings of religious believers in the city.

“Citizens need to pay attention to the social distancing culture and know that the threat of coronavirus is still serious,” state media quoted Ghadir as saying.

The man recording the video appears to be one of the men who filmed themselves licking the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom in the early days of the outbreak to prove the shrine is free of coronavirus and to express opposition to calls to close the shrine to limit the spread of the virus, social media users pointed out.

Iran closed the Fatima Masumeh shrine as part of the country’s efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus almost a month after acknowledging the outbreak in Qom. The closure of the shrine prompted angry protests in the city.

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