Saudi Arabia suspends prayers at mosques over coronavirus
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that mosques would no longer receive worshippers for the customary five daily prayers or the weekly Friday congregation in a move aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus which has infected 171 people.
Neighbouring Oman also closed mosques, restaurants, coffee shops, tourist sites and traditional markets and malls, except groceries and pharmacies. It barred foreigners from entering and nationals from leaving, state TV said.
Qatar, which reported three new cases, bringing its total to 442, likewise shuttered mall shops not selling food or pharmaceuticals, and closed part of an industrial zone for at least two weeks, a government spokeswoman said.
Saudi Arabia registered 38 new infections to take the total to 171. The kingdom has taken drastic steps to combat the outbreak, including suspending the Umrah pilgrimage, halting all international flights, and closing schools and most public establishments.
Prayers will continue only at the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah, the holiest places in Islam, state news agency SPA reported, citing a decision by the top clerical body.
Mosque doors will close and the ritual call to prayer will direct people to pray at home.
The kingdom previously suspended work for government employees, except in the health, military and security sectors.
The central bank said it had activated business continuity plans and work-from-home measures for financial institutions and media reported the Council of Ministers postponed its regular meetings for two weeks.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later spoke by phone with the leaders of France and India to discuss global efforts to contain the coronavirus.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) registered 15 new cases, raising its total to 113.
Amid volatility in regional markets and plunging oil prices, the UAE announced that shares would be allowed to drop a daily maximum of 5% from their previous day closing price, instead of 10%.
Bahrain, with 227 cases and the only death so far in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), unveiled measures, including covering some utility payments for individuals and firms and exempting tourist facilities from taxes.
The island kingdom’s finance ministry also said it would double the size of its liquidity fund to 200 million dinars (US$530 million) and its central bank would raise banks’ lending capacity by 3.7 billion dinars (US$9.8 billion) to postpone instalments or provide additional financing for clients