Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 May 2020

Gaza reopens mosques for Ramadan and Eid prayers despite spike in coronavirus cases

They were reopened to allow the final Friday prayers of the Islamic holy month

Palestinians wearing protective face masks attend Fraiday prayers as mosques reopen amid the ongoing coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, 22 May 2020. EPA
Palestinians wearing protective face masks attend Fraiday prayers as mosques reopen amid the ongoing coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, 22 May 2020. EPA

For the first time in two months, Gazans were allowed to experience the joy of praying in a mosque after authorities announced that mosques would be reopened for the last Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan.

The enclave’s coronavirus committee and Ministry of Religious Affairs took the decision almost two months after mosques were completely closed to combat the potential spread of the virus in the territory that holds two million people and remains locked under an Israeli economic siege.

The decision to reopen mosques finally came as the committee said people will be allowed to attend both Friday prayers and Eid Al Fitr prayer at mosques, but with certain protective measures introduced by the Gaza Health Ministry to ensure public safety.

Authorities in the Hamas-ruled strip stressed that residents who have health problems or chronic diseases, elderly people, children or people who have just finished their self-isolation after returning to the Gaza Strip from abroad, should stay at home.

The instructions include maintaining social distance, wearing protective masks, and using hand sanitiser, in addition to bringing their own prayer rugs to the mosque.

The instructions provided by the authorities were not exclusive to worshippers, but also the Imams, whose speeches were not allowed to exceed 10 minutes, and the sermons and speeches all focused on reminding people of the need to pray to God to help them through this crisis and lift the epidemic.

The government’s directives to combat the potential spread of the coronavirus have made it difficult for Gaza residents to feel the spirit of the holy month of Ramadan.

Although Gazans are missing out on their routine activities in such times, they seem to understand the necessity of taking all precautions as the scarcity of medical supplies in the enclave leaves them no choice but to try to stay healthy in a place where being sick is very much unaffordable.

Israel’s 14-year-old blockade on Gaza, has significantly undermined its health sector. The health system has already been shaky for years and it certainly cannot take on the burden of a large number of cases.

A recent spike in new coronavirus cases within quarantine facilities has seen the number of infections rise from no more than 20 to 55, with 25 cases announced on Thursday alone. It comes after around 1,500 Palestinians who were stuck in Egypt were allowed to return to the territory through the Rafah crossing.

But, despite the increase, authorities in the Gaza Strip refused to change their decision to reopen mosques.

“The ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs assures that the decision to open mosques for Friday prayers are still in effect,” it said in a statement.

The announcement has created fear and anger among residents as only a few hundreds of people were willing to take the risk of praying at mosques.

The timing of this decision has provoked people to accuse the government of not being wise enough.

Health officials and many residents now consider the detection of these cases a serious indication of a potential outbreak of the virus in Gaza. The quarantine centres still have hundreds of tests to be conducted and poor capacity to carry out such examinations; a fact that may have caused a collective sense of fear of the fallout that awaits the ill-equipped Gazan enclave.

Updated: May 23, 2020 09:38 PM

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