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Pope Francis arrives in Iraq amid concerns trip could ‘be a superspreader event’

Pope Francis has arrived in Iraq as part of a historic trip, one that’s been raising concerns over whether it could be a “superspreader event” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pope’s plane on Friday landed at Baghdad’s airport, and he was greeted by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, The Associated Press reports. On the three-day trip, Francis aims to “urge the country’s dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution,” the AP writes. It’s a historic trip, as this is the first time a pope has ever visited Iraq.

But amid a spike in COVID-19 cases there, The New York Times notes there have been concerns that the Iraq trip “has the potential to be a superspreader event,” and that although the Vatican has said that all events will be safe and socially distanced, “the pope’s goals for the visit could be eclipsed by any indication that he is contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.”

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Indeed, Rev. Antonio Spadaro, an ally of Francis’, told the Times “there is this concern that the pope’s visit not put the people’s health at risk — this is evident. There is an awareness of the problem.”

Francis has been vaccinated against COVID-19, as has his delegation. But the AP notes that “health measures appeared lax inside the airport” when he arrived on Friday and that hundreds gathered nearby in hopes of seeing him. And according to the Times, among the items on the agenda during this trip includes a large mass at a soccer stadium that thousands are expected to attend.