Churches in Egypt suspend activities to slow spread of coronavirus

Churches across Egypt have announced the suspension of church meetings and activities, following a government decision to suspend schools and universities for two weeks as a precautionary measure to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Coptic Orthodox Church confirmed the suspension of all church education programs for two weeks.

The church’s official Spokesperson Father Paul Halim announced in a press statement Sunday the suspension of all other church activities as well, including gatherings of large groups and services at nurseries, rehabilitation centers and church trips.

The statement also stressed the suspension of study in all theological institutes and colleges.

Meanwhile, the statement also said that it remains possible to hold more than one daily religious service at churches to avoid overcrowding at mass, especially on occasions and holidays.

The statement stressed the need to take precautions before heading to mass, and warned citizens not to attend if they were suffering from a fever or displayed other influenza-like symptoms. 

The statement also cautioned churchgoers to frequently wash their hands and avoid shaking hands and sharing drinks and food as much as possible.

Egypt had confirmed 126 cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, as of Sunday, according to the Ministry of Health. The country has reported two deaths from the respiratory illness, which produces mild to moderate symptoms in most people, such as a fever and cough. For the elderly and immunocompromised, however, COVID-19 can cause more serious illness, including pneumonia, and require hospitalization.

Last week, Egypt reported that a 60-year-old woman from Daqahlia had died from complications of coronavirus. The first death reported in Egypt – a 60-year old German tourist who passed away in a hospital in Hurghada – was confirmed on March 8.

Egypt has moved to close schools and universities across the country for two weeks and has halted large public gatherings to stop the spread of the virus, which has killed over 6,500 worldwide and infected upwards of 170,000.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Lebanon declared a state of emergency and announced that the country’s airports, borders, and ports would close starting Wednesday and extending through March 29, with nonessential businesses ordered to shut down and citizens urged to stay indoors.

Jordan has also moved to suspend all incoming and outgoing flights beginning on Tuesday, according to Reuters, and has closed all tourism sites across the country.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have halted passenger flights as well, and the UAE has also imposed entry restrictions and moved to close restaurants and pubs across the country, while Qatar has restricted entry for all travelers except Qatari nationals and issued a ban on public transportation, according to Reuters.

Local officials in Saudi Arabia announced over the weekend the closure of malls, restaurants, cafes, and public parks. Pharmacies, grocery stores, and food delivery were to remain open. Kuwait has moved to shutter restaurants and cafes as well, with businesses providing essential goods and services to stay open.

A curfew is also set to be imposed in Iraq beginning late Tuesday, and includes suspending all flights from Baghdad’s airport. Businesses remain open in Iran, however, the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East.

Image: A woman wears a protective mask while riding a metro on the Shubra al-Khaimah to Tahrir Square line, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, on March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Rania Goma

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