May 14, 2020 / 11:20 AM / 22 days ago

Malaysia to allow mass prayers ahead of Eid as coronavirus cases fall

Muslims break their fast at the end of the day during the holy month of Ramadan at Independence Square, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Muslim-majority Malaysia will ease a ban on mass prayers in mosques, starting from Friday and ahead of this month’s Eid festival, the government said, as it gradually relaxes curbs that have helped rein in the coronavirus.

The news follows last week’s re-opening of many businesses in Malaysia, which has a tally of 6,819 infections and 112 deaths. It comes ahead of the Eid holiday that ends the fasting month of Ramadan, and falls on May 24 this year.

The capital, Kuala Lumpur, is among Malaysia’s federal territories which will allow prayers by congregations limited to 30 or fewer, said Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, the religious affairs minister.

“Even though worship in Islam is not confined only to mosques and suraus, it has a profound effect on the spiritual development of Muslims,” he told reporters on Thursday, in a reference to smaller prayer sites.

The measure excludes Malaysia’s 12 remaining states, which have their own laws on religious matters, but Zulkifli said they were free to adopt similar measures if they wished.

Mass prayers have been banned since around mid-March in a partial lockdown after more than 2,300 people were infected in the country’s biggest outbreak, following a religious gathering at a mosque attended by about 16,000 people.

Although new daily cases have declined steadily, schools and colleges will stay closed until June 9. Health authorities identified six clusters involving Islamic religious schools, with 635 students and staff testing positive.

Four clusters were linked to the March gathering.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Liz Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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