New Delhi's main mosque shut down again over virus fears
Muslim devotees offer Friday prayers at Fatehpuri Masjid after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure in New Delhi. AFP
The main mosque in the Indian capital New Delhi, which briefly reopened to worshippers, will again close over fears that the coronavirus could spread, its management said Thursday.
The 17th century Jama Masjid had reopened Monday after the government relaxed its ban on religious gatherings -- a measure that was part of a months-long nationwide lockdown. But authorities have warned that infections could surge in coming weeks, and mosque managers want to play it safe.
Head cleric Syed Ahmed Bukhari said public prayers will be halted from Friday through June 30, given the "deteriorating" coronavirus situation in New Delhi. The capital recorded more than 1,800 new cases on Thursday. Overall, Delhi -- home to nearly 20 million people -- has seen more than 34,000 infections and 1,000 deaths.
"Coronavirus is spreading exponentially in Delhi," Bukhari said in a statement. "What is the point of visiting mosques at such a time when the spread of the coronavirus is peaking in Delhi?"
The voluntary closure comes two days after the mosque's media manager died due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. On Monday, India further loosened its lockdown to ease the impact on the economy.
But the virus is still raging across the world's second-most populous nation, with around 290,000 reported infections -- the fifth-highest caseload in the world. Many have questioned the government's decision to reopen places of worship, which attract millions of devotees on a daily basis.
The local government in New Delhi warned Tuesday that the city could see nearly 550,000 cases by the end of July, potentially overwhelming its ability to treat those infected Authorities in southern Kerala state also announced that they will suspend monthly gatherings at Sabarimala, a popular Hindu shrine that attracts tens of thousands of devotees.
Most places of worship have put restrictions on the number of devotees allowed at any one time, and taken measures to ensure social distancing and hygiene.