Pakistan clerics to defy mosque closure amid coronavirus lockdown
President Arif Alvi and regional governors held a meeting with influential Sunni and Shia leaders to convince them to close tens of thousands of mosques across the country, but the clerics refused.
Religious Affairs Minister Noor Qadri said. "We can in no way close mosques ... It is not possible in any circumstances in an Islamic country," said Muneeb-bur-Rehman, a cleric who attended the meeting with the president.
Coronavirus in the Middle East: Lock down or play down?
Countries such as Kuwait and Israel have instituted virtual lockdowns in the face of COVID-19, while religious gatherings have been limited at a time of year ripe with ritual. Others have been slower to act. By Tom Allinson
Iran bearing the brunt: with a high number of deaths and cases, Iran has been a regional epicentre of the outbreak. Several top officials have been infected and there are concerns the number of cases are higher than reported. The government has cancelled Friday prayers but health workers have complained they are under-equipped. Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund for emergency funding
Strict measures in Saudi Arabia: Saudi authorities banned international religious pilgrims early on, leaving the Grand Mosque's Kaaba in Mecca virtually empty. Other measures have involved sanitizing streets and mosques, closing schools and universities, an extensive travel ban and fines of up to 500,000 riyals (€120,000/$133,000) for people hiding health details. It has also locked down the Shia-minority area of Qatif
Egypt restricts travel: in Cairo, hundreds of Egyptians tried to get certificates showing they have a clean bill of health after Saudi Arabia announced new travel regulations. Although Egypt has only detected a low number of cases, more than 100 tourists returning from the country tested positive for the virus. Officials have limited sermons to 15 minutes and cancelled large public gatherings
Israel and West Bank cut off from the world: gatherings of less than 100 are still allowed, leaving visits to the Wailing Wall open. But Israeli authorities have virtually halted air traffic in and out of its territory and tourists are required to self-quarantine. The city of Bethlehem has declared a state of emergency, emptying streets usually teeming ahead of Easter. Israeli researchers have said they are close to finding a COVID-19 cure
Virtual lockdown in Kuwait: as Kuwaitis kept their distance at this makeshift testing centre, the country entered a virtual lockdown, with the entire workforce given a two-week holiday from March 12. All commercial flights have been suspended from Friday on, schools have been closed and gatherings at restaurants, malls and commercial centres have been banned
In Iraq coronavirus fails to dampen protests: Iraq's protest movement has set up its own makeshift disinfection stations to counter the spread of COVID-19. Although Iraq is highly prone to the outbreak due to its proximity and close relations with Iran, protesters have been defiant, saying the government is the virus. Elsewhere authorities have closed major public spaces and religious institutions have cancelled gatherings
The news comes amid a spike in new infections this week, bringing the total number of cases to 1,118.
Hundreds of thousands of people gather at mosques across Pakistan on Fridays for weekly prayers, which last for more than an hour.
Pakistani authorities already enforced a countrywide lockdown from Monday, with troops and police forcing people to stay indoors. Educational institutions, offices and private companies are closed, roads are deserted and transportation has come to a halt in the country of more than 200 million people.
Earlier this week, authorities in the capital Islamabad sealed off at least two neighbourhoods where they had found several infected people linked to a 100,000-strong religious congregation two weeks ago. (dpa)