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A few people walk in the vicinity of the closed Al-Azhar mosque in Egypt's capital Cairo on March 20, 2020, after the country's Muslim religious authorities decided to put the Friday prayers on hold, in order to avoid gatherings and the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 disease. / AFP / Khaled DESOUKI Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: Egypt’s Islamic authorities Saturday announced a temporary halt to daily and weekly prayers in mosques across the populous nation as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

The Awqaf Ministry, in charge of mosques in Egypt, said it decided to suspend congregational daily and Friday prayers in mosques for two weeks “for the safety of worshippers”.

Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, Ahmad Al Tayyeb, also ordered the suspension of daily and Friday prayers in the prestigious mosque of Al Azhar for the same duration, state media reported.

Earlier Saturday, the Awqaf Ministry closed down the Sayeda Zainab Mosque, named after the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), due to the spike in numbers of visitors.

Egyptian media showed a large crowd gathering around the shrine inside the popular mosque in Islamic Cairo following the Friday prayer, raising fears of the spread of the Covid-19. The site draws Muslim faithful from around Egypt all the year round.

The ministry said the shutdown complies with the Islamic Sharia and aims at serving national interests by protecting human life.

“Given that the current time cannot stand such gatherings, we have decided to completely shut the mosque,” the ministry added in a statement.

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, meanwhile, decided to close all its churches and suspend all mass services for the country’s minority Coptic community.

The church said in a statement it took the decision “out of its national and ecclesiastical responsibilities and to protect all people of Egypt”.

Egypt, a country of about 100 million people, has reported so far eight deaths due to the coronavirus and a total of 285 infections.

In an effort to curb the spread of the virus, Egypt has taken a string of measures including a ban on large public gatherings, comprising those held to celebrate the birthdays of Muslim and Christian saints.

The Egyptian government Thursday decided to partially close restaurants, cafes, nightclubs and shopping malls as part of precautions against the virus.

Other measures include the closure of educational institutions, suspension of all sports events, the shutdown of cinemas and theatres as well as halting flights to the country.