Egypt shuts Al-Azhar mosque and Coptic churches over coronavirus fears

Egypt shuts Al-Azhar mosque and Coptic churches over coronavirus fears
Egypt's Al-Azhar mosque will close its doors to worshippers as religious authorities move to stop the spread of coronavirus.
2 min read
21 March, 2020
Al-Azhar mosque is closing amid the spread of coronavirus in Egypt [AFP/Getty]

Egypt's mosques and churches are closing their doors in a bid to halt the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

The country's Muslim religious authorities decided to put the Friday prayers on hold, in order to avoid gatherings and the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 disease.

Cairo's historic Al-Azhar mosque, linked to Egypt's top Sunni Muslim authority, will shut its doors from Saturday "for the safety of worshipers, and until the end of the Corona epidemic" it said in a statement shared by Reuters.

The call to prayer will continue through the mosque's microphones but worshippers will now have to offer their prayers from inside their homes.

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church adopted similar measures Saturday, ordering all its churches to shut and suspending masses for two weeks, Reuters reported.

Visits to monasteries will be cancelled and condolence halls closed in further measures. 

Each parish has been instructed to name one church for funeral prayers and the ceremonies will be restricted to close family.

Copts make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 100 million.

Egypt's Catholic Church is also ordering worshippers to pray at home until further notice. 

Read more: As coronavirus spreads in Egypt, Sisi puts the truth
on lockdown

As of Friday, Egypt had reported 285 confirmed COVID-19 cases although there are reports which suggest the number of cases are much higher than authorities are saying.

Egyptian authorities on Tuesday demanded an apology from The Guardian after it published a report citing a study from the University of Toronto infectious disease specialists, which estimated an outbreak size of 19,310 cases in Egypt.

In contrast to Iran which freed 85,000 prisoners this month, including scores of political detainees, Egyptian authorities have resolutely kept inmates locked up even as the state imposes measures to limit social interactions.

Families of prisoners fear a potentially catastrophic coronavirus outbreak in Egypt's prisons and have called for their imminent release as the rest of the country hunkers down.

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