Serbia: Thousands mourn Patriarch Irinej amid Covid concerns

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

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Thousands of people in the Serbian capital Belgrade have been paying their respects to the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church who died after contracting Covid-19.

Patriarch Irinej tested positive for coronavirus early this month and died on Friday, aged 90.

He has been lying in state ahead of his funeral on Sunday. The Serbian government has declared three days of national mourning.

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Doctors had called on mourners to observe coronavirus guidance amid a surge in cases in the country.

But thousands of people queued to pay their respects in churches in Belgrade.

Some wore face masks and observed social distancing as they mourned the loss of the late patriarch, while others did neither.

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The coffin had a glass cover to discourage worshippers from the traditional kissing of the patriarch's hands and face, but some planted their lips on the glass screen, regardless.

At one church event, worshippers drank from the same communion spoon.

A member of the government's coronavirus taskforce said the events were "something that no-one can ban".

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Patriarch Irinej was a conservative who also wielded major political influence.

He is the highest-ranking figure in the Eastern Orthodox Church to die from coronavirus.

He is thought to have contracted the disease at the funeral of the Church's most senior cleric in Montenegro, 82-year-old Metropolitan Bishop Amfilohije Radovic, who also died of Covid-19 earlier this month.

The Church has an estimated 12 million followers.

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