DHAKA: Bangladesh lifted a month-long ban on mass gatherings and prayers in mosques on Thursday, while urging people to maintain strict “health guidelines” to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The move follows a notice issued by the country’s Religious Affairs Ministry on Wednesday setting out guidelines for worshippers.
Bangladesh adopted strict social distancing measures in early April following the coronavirus outbreak, including a ban on religious gatherings and joint prayers in mosques, with Friday prayers limited to a maximum of 12 people.
Similar restrictions were imposed on special taraweeh prayers offered during Ramadan.
Following the reopening of mosques during Ramadan, worshippers will have to wear face masks and maintain a 1-meter distance from each other while offering prayers.
Mosque administrators have also been told to disinfect floors before prayers, remove carpets and provide hand washing facilities with soap or hand sanitizers.
Elderly people and children will not be allowed to enter mosques, which are also barred from arranging public iftar and sahoor meals on their premises.
Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, additional secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said the government eased restrictions because of the “religious sentiments” of Muslim worshippers during Ramadan.
But he warned that mosques must ensure government guidelines are properly followed.
“Our Islamic Foundation staffers are vigilant across the country to monitor if there are any violations of the health guidelines,” he told Arab News.
However, public health experts voiced concern over the decision to reopen mosques as coronavirus infection rates in Bangladesh continue to spike.
Prof. Benazir Ahmed, a Dhaka-based infectious disease specialist, said that there are over 250,000 mosques in Bangladesh, leaving up to 25 million worshippers at risk of infection from the deadly virus.
“We have to stand very close, shoulder to shoulder (in mosques), and anyone infected with coronavirus can easily transmit the infection to others,” Ahmed, a former director of the Center for Disease Control, told Arab News.
“Given the high virus tally in the country, the government should extend the lockdown until the virus curve drops and then lift the restrictions in green zones that have no infection,” Ahmed said.
On Monday, the government decided to reopen markets and shopping malls on a “limited scale,” allowing businesses to operate from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. But the two largest shopping malls in Dhaka on Wednesday decided not to open before Eid because of the growing virus threat.
“Many shop owners have no choice except to open. It’s a question of survival as we have had no income for almost six weeks,” Mohammed Helal Uddin, president of the Shop Owners’ Association, told Arab News.
“But we don’t want to put people’s lives at risk. If the market management and shop owners can ensure the necessary public safety and social distancing measures, then they can open the shops,”
As of Thursday, Bangladesh reported a total of 12,425 COVID-19 patients with about 200 deaths.