Pope Francis will be visiting Iraq from March 5th-8th, despite serious health concerns from experts amidst the ongoing pandemic, noting that Iraqi citizens are likely to crowd around him. In addition, the main point person who would be escorting the Pope just tested positive for COVID-19, adding more concerns to the matter. Certainly no one wants to tell Pope Francis to call off the visit, as the Iraqi government has every interest in showing off its relative stability by welcoming the first Pope to the birthplace of Abraham. This trip is expected to provide a much needed “spiritual boost” to Iraq’s hard-pressed Christians, whilst improving the relationship efforts between the Vatican and the Muslim world.
Beyond his case, experts note that wars, economic crises and an exodus of Iraqi professionals have devastated the country’s hospital systems, while studies show most of Iraq’s new COVID-19 infections are the highly-contagious variant first identified in Britain.“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Dr. Navid Madani, virologist and founding director of the Center for Science Health Education in the Middle East and North Africa at Harvard Medical School’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Most experts are concerned about this visit due to safety reasons, as Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease control expert at the University of Exeter College of Medicine said.“It’s a perfect storm for generating lots of cases which you won’t be able to deal with,” Dr. Pankhania said. Masks will be enforced, as well as social distancing rules and regulations in order to ensure safety as the number one priority. The Vatican has taken its own precautions, vaccinating Pope Francis and his Vatican crew.
Pope Francis mentioned that he is steadfast on his plan in making this visit, even if most Iraqis have to watch him on television to avoid any risks or health infections. The Pope’s aim in visiting Iraq is to allow all the Iraqi citizens to notice his presence in their country. More safety and precaution guidelines the Iraqi government have imposed include a semi-lockdown, and a curfew in mid-February during the new wave cases. This resulted in the closing of schools and mosques, and leaving restaurants and cafes only operational for takeout. However, the government decided against a full lockdown due to the difficulty of enforcing it, as well as the financial impact it would have on the whole economy of the country, Iraqi officials told AP. According to Madani, the Harvard virologist, postponing or rescheduling the visit, or perhaps doing it as a virtual visit would serve as a better and safer alternative for the time being.
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