Pope’s Iraq meetings potential super spreaders

Pope Iraq coronavirus

Health experts have raised concerns that Pope Francis’ Iraq meetings have the potential to create coronavirus ‘super spreader’ events.

While the pope’s trip is intended to send a message of peace and resilience, the scenes along the way have all the hallmarks of super spreader events.

Crowds have often been packed together with little social distancing. Some people have worn masks; others have not.

Francis led a historic Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph in Baghdad on Saturday. The pews were full of people offering prayers with extra gusto for the first papal visit to Iraq.

But the gathering, in a crowded space with little ventilation, was the kind of event that public health experts have warned against during the coronavirus pandemic.

Even at the Vatican, the 84-year-old pope has stopped holding audiences with the public as a precaution. It is especially concerning to hold such events in Iraq, where the virus is running rampant.

Thousands of largely unmasked and almost certainly un-vaccinated Iraqis gathered in Franso Hariri stadium in Irbil on Sunday to get a glimpse of Pope Francis.

The Vatican estimated that around 10,000 people would be socially distanced in the 50,000-capacity stadium. But several journalists traveling with the pope tweeted the numbers seemed far higher and that there was no safe distancing.

“A lot of people want to see the pope,” Raghad Al-Suhail, a professor of virology and immunology at the University of Baghdad, previously told The Washington Post.

“But we are all worried. Even here, people are saying, how is the pope coming to visit at this time? The country is not really well-prepared for it.”

The pope, who has received the coronavirus vaccine, has expressed feeling “caged” under lockdowns. He has been eager to renew his face-to-face outreach to the world’s Roman Catholics and others.

Muhamed Almaliky, an Iraqi American physician and a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, told The Post that it was unlikely that Iraq, with its limited access to vaccines, would recover anytime soon from the virus, justifying the timing of the pope’s visit.

“There is no point at which Iraq will be stable and healthy, not even in three years,” Almaliky said. “He is a man who is aging and becoming frail. If the pope waits, the trip may never happen, as Iraq will be the last country to recover from coronavirus.”

One thing is for sure, this pope is showing the world what it means to put aside fear and take a risk on building peace and friendship. And, in these circumstances, it looks like a huge risk.


La Croix International

Washington Post

The Daily Beast

Additional reading

News category: World.

Tags: , , ,