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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore has temporarily suspended congregational Friday prayers, while Malaysia has issued strict guidelines for religious gatherings after a number of coronavirus cases were linked to an event at a mosque on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
The four-day gathering at Sri Petaling Mosque in late February was attended by 10,000 participants who came from several countries.
At least 14 of the attendees have tested positive for the virus, among them two from Singapore and one from Brunei. Malaysian authorities are still trying to track 5,000 nationals who took part in the event.
On Thursday, Malaysian Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri issued a statement advising that congregational Friday prayers should be suspended if the Health Ministry announces that the coronavirus outbreak is widespread.
He requested that sermons be shortened and congregation members perform ablutions at home.
“Mosque authorities are required to provide hand sanitizers and face masks as a precaution,” he said, adding that people with symptoms are not allowed to attend mass prayers.
Meanwhile, Singapore has shut down all mosques for five days to undergo disinfection. “Because COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, there are baseline things that we must get used to,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.
He urged Singaporeans to practice good personal hygiene, adopt new social norms and refrain from attending large gatherings.
Azrul Mohd Khalib, chief executive of the Galen Center for Health and Social Policy, said Malaysia’s decision to continue with Friday prayers unless the Health Ministry advises otherwise “exposes people to incredible risk and potentially increases the spread of the disease.”
He added: “We should follow Singapore’s lead in taking precautionary measures.”
He said: “They’ve suspended all mosque-centric activities until the end of the month. We’re about to transition from the containment to the disease-mitigation phase of this outbreak.”
He said Malaysian authorities should suspend all mass religious gatherings to mitigate the spread of the virus.
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