Iraq: senior cleric tests positive for coronavirus

Ahmed Al Safi represents Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, who is due to meet the Pope in Iraq in March

Iraqi cleric Ahmed al-Safi delivers a sermon during Friday prayers at the Imam Hussein shrine in the holy city of Kerbala, Iraq February 7, 2020. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa al-Deen
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A prominent aide to top Iraqi Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, has tested positive for coronavirus in Iraq.

Ahmed Al Safi is in a "stable" condition after having the infection diagnosed on Tuesday, a statement from his office read.

Mr Al Safi is one of two senior representatives who deliver Mr Al Sistani's messages to politicians and the public through Friday sermons.

Because of the pandemic, the Iranian-born Mr Al Sistani has halted these sermons, which draw thousands of worshippers to Karbala.

Iraq is going through its second wave of the virus as daily coronavirus cases exceeded 4,000 for the first time in weeks.

The surge in cases comes before a planned visit by Pope Francis next month, the first papal visit to the nation.

During his four-day trip, which begins on March 5, the pontiff is due to meet Mr Al Sistani in the southern city of Najaf.

This has prompted authorities to re-enforce strict national measures including a full lockdown on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

For the rest of the week, lockdown begins at 8pm and ends at 5am. Schools are suspended until further notice.

New infections peaked in late September when the country registered 5,025 cases in a day.

The highest number of daily deaths was recorded in late June at 122, health ministry figures show.

Iraq's infection rate had dropped to about 600 cases a day in early January, and less than 10 deaths a day.

On Thursday, the health ministry reported 4,074 new cases with 27 deaths. That brought the total number of confirmed cases to 684,362 and deaths to 13,351.