Religious services curbed across Middle East over virus fears

Middle East USA World

JERUSALEM: Religious authorities cancelled or limited weekly prayer gatherings across the Middle East on Friday to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus as they encouraged the faithful to pray for those afflicted by the global pandemic.

Iran, which is mired in the worst outbreak in the region, meanwhile announced another 85 deaths, pushing its total number of fatalities to 514 amid 11,364 confirmed cases. The real number of cases might be even higher, as questions have been raised about authorities’ transparency.Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem said services would continue to be held in the Holy Land but moved to limit indoor gatherings after the Israeli Health Ministry said they should not exceed 100 people.

At the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews can pray, authorities limited entrance to enclosed areas. But the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which oversees the site, said there would be no restrictions in the main plaza as it is a wide, open space.

In recent days the foundation has encouraged people to join in special prayers for victims of the virus, which has infected more than 130,000 people worldwide and caused more than 5,000 deaths.

Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, meanwhile urged people to stop visiting the Western Wall, cancel mass prayers and pray near their homes “until the wrath passes and mercy comes from heaven.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes.

But the rapid spread of the virus has caused worldwide alarm, tanking financial markets, disrupting travel and leading to large-scale shutdowns in some areas.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020

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