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Experts advise against pope's trip to Iraq amid pandemic

Experts advise against pope's trip to Iraq amid pandemic
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Health experts are speaking out to advise against Pope FrancisPope FrancisBiden should look to 'Ostpolitik' to negotiate with autocrats The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's infrastructure plan triggers definition debate Obamas wish Americans 'a safe and happy Easter' MORE’s scheduled trip to Iraq this week amid concerns that his presence in the country will likely draw crowds and risk spreading COVID-19.

The 84-year-old pope’s upcoming trip to the majority Muslim country, slated for March 5 to 8, is worrying infectious disease experts, who warn that Iraq’s fragile health care system may not be able to handle a large outbreak, The Associated Press reported

Pope Francis, as well as his entourage of 20 people and the dozens journalists on his plane, have all been vaccinated. But the experts said their unease revolved around the safety of the Iraqi people who are not vaccinated and would gather to see the pope.

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Two Iraqi government officials told the AP that the trip’s organizers plan to ensure people wear masks, social distance and limit crowd sizes, with one official saying the COVID-19 requirements are “critical but can be managed.”

In the midst of the concerns, the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, who would have accompanied the pope during his trip, tested positive for COVID-19 and was self-isolating. The embassy told the AP that his symptoms were mild.

The pope has previously said he will head to Iraq even if most residents need to watch him on their TVs, saying it’s essential “they will see that the pope is there in their country,” according to the Catholic News Service.  

The government in Iraq had declared a partial lockdown and curfew earlier this month as infections have increased, leading to closed schools and mosques.

Iraq has confirmed nearly 700,000 COVID-19 cases, leading to more than 13,400 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Recent studies indicate that most of the new COVID-19 infections in the country are from the more contagious strain first discovered in the U.K.