The leading religious figure of Serbia, Patriarch Irinej, has died after contracting coronavirus. The 90-year-old head of the Serbian Orthodox Church had led a massive public funeral in early November for Metropolitan Bishop Amfilohije Radovic of Montenegro, who also died of coronavirus.

Head of Serbian Orthodox church dies

President Aleksander Vucic wrote a message on Instagram and said that he was honored to know Patriarch Irinej, paying tribute to the patriarch.

Patriarch Irinej was a conservative who also wielded massive political influence. He was put on a ventilator in a military hospital after his condition deteriorated on November 19. He became worse just two weeks after he was first admitted to the hospital. On November 20, his death was announced.

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The patriarch was known to publicly criticize the government's facilitation of gay pride events in Serbia, condemning homosexuality and stating that it is a deviation of human nature. In 2008, he was also opposed to Kosovo's unilaterally declared independence, according to BBC.

Patriarch Irinej was admitted to the hospital on November 4. It was just three days after he officiated at the Church's most senior cleric funeral in Montenegro, the 82-year-old Metropolitan Bishop Amfilohije Radovic.

Thousands of mourners had gathered at the event without masks or even maintaining social distancing. Many of those present at the funeral kissed the bishop's body as it lay in an open casket. Bishop Amfilohije had defied COVID-19 regulations in public gatherings in Montenegro.

Bishop Amfilohije's public funeral had gone ahead, despite the spike in coronavirus cases in Montenegro and Serbia, and despite the warnings from medical experts that the funeral ceremony is a risk to public health.

There are more than 104,000 people who have tested positive, and 1,110 have died in Serbia since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to CNN.

Church figures in South-Eastern Europe have difficulties responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Just earlier this week, a funeral was held in Greece for a senior cleric, and the communion ceremonies were still done at the funeral as they claimed that there is no risk of infection.

The death of the 62-year-old Metropolitan Bishop Ioannis of Lagadas came amid a spike in infection in Northern Greece.

The head of the Greek Orthodox Church had been admitted to the hospital with mild coronavirus symptoms. The 82-year-old Archbishop Ieronymos has publicly supported the Greek government's lockdown measures.

However, the Church's Holy Synod has rejected communion criticisms, which involved the bread being soaked in wine and handed out from the same chalice.

COVID-19 cases in Serbia

According to John Hopkins University, Serbia now has a total of 110,351 COVID-19 cases with 1,140 deaths. Last month, the Serbian government announced a face mask rule that is mandatory. People are required to wear masks in public.

Municipalities were ordered to ban public gatherings. A sports arena in Belgrade was prepared to accommodate the inflow of patients with milder COVID-19 symptoms.

Kisic Tepavcevic, a member of the government's crisis staff, said that Serbia's situation was more favorable than the rest of Europe, but that is not an assurance because the virus has a potential for rapid spreading.

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