Egypt has suspended mass prayers at mosques and shut down churches in an unprecedented move aimed at curbing the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the populous country.
Egypt’s endowments ministry decided on Saturday to temporarily suspend congressional and Friday prayers in all mosques across the country to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
Prayers in mosques will be suspended for two weeks, with the call for prayer, also known as Azan, given out to alert worshippers about prayer times, with slight alteration.
"Pray at home" will ring across speakers nationwide during the suspension.
Earlier on Saturday, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb suspended prayers at renowned Islamic Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque until the virus is contained.
The suspension comes after controversy erupted over Muslim worshippers choosing to flock to mosques for Friday's noon prayers despite a religious edict allowing people to avoid religious gatherings and pray at home due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Muslims wearing protective face masks do the Friday prayers inside Al-Azhar mosque in the old Islamic area of Cairo while Egypt ramps up its efforts to slow down the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cairo, Egypt March 20, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt reported one new death and 29 new novel coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the total to 285 cases and eight deaths nationwide.
Religious gatherings in other countries, including Iran, have been linked to hundreds of people being infected with coronavirus.
In Iran, which has seen one of the worst outbreaks outside China, some cases were linked to pilgrimage sites for Shia Muslims in the holy city of Qom.
Egypt had earlier upped restrictions on the duration of mass prayers and the length of sermons, and halted all other gatherings at mosques, including funeral and marriage services to stem the spread of the virus. It has also closed schools, universities, and limited mass gatherings.
The Coptic Orthodox Church also said on Saturday it is temporarily shutting down all churches nationwide and suspending masses as part of the preventive measures implemented by the state to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a statement by the Church said.
The Church said it will also close halls designated for funeral services at churches and limit funeral services to the family of the deceased only.
It has ordered that every diocese designates only one church for funerals, the statement added, banning visits to monks and nuns’ monasteries.
The move, implemented starting Saturday, is effective for two weeks and until further notice, according to the statement.
Egypt's Christians make up about 10-14 percent of the country's 100 million plus population, with the vast majority of Christians in Egypt belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The Coptic Orthodox Church called on Copts at home and abroad not to "take lightly the current crisis, and commit to measures implemented by responsible authorities to participate effectively in averting the numbers of those infected and dead from the disease worldwide."
File Photo: Pope Tawadros II, the 118th Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark Cathedral, leads Egypt's Coptic Christmas eve Mass at the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in the New Administrative Capital (NAC) east of Cairo, Egypt January 6, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt has intensified its preventive measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus by suspending international flights to and from the country until the end of March and by reducing the number of public sector employees working at state institutions.
The country has also closed schools and universities for two weeks and allocated a EGP 100 billion fund to finance a "comprehensive" plan to stop the spread of the virus.