Malaysia to allow mass prayers limited to 30 people ahead of Hari Raya Puasa as coronavirus cases fall

Kuala Lumpur will allow prayers by congregations limited to 30 or fewer.
Kuala Lumpur will allow prayers by congregations limited to 30 or fewer.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Muslim-majority Malaysia will ease a ban on mass prayers in mosques, starting from Friday (May 15) and ahead of this month's Hari Raya Puasa festival, the government said, as it gradually relaxes curbs that have helped rein in the coronavirus.

The news follows last week's reopening of many businesses in Malaysia, which has a tally of 6,819 infections and 112 deaths. It comes ahead of the Hari Raya Puasa holiday that ends the fasting month of Ramadan, and falls on May 24 this year.

The capital, Kuala Lumpur, is among Malaysia's federal territories which will allow prayers by congregations limited to 30 or fewer, said Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, the religious affairs minister.

"Even though worship in Islam is not confined only to mosques and suraus, it has a profound effect on the spiritual development of Muslims," he told reporters on Thursday, in a reference to smaller prayer sites.

The measure does not apply to Malaysia's 13 states, which have their own laws on religious matters, but Dr Zulkifli said they were free to adopt similar measures if they wished.

Mass prayers have been banned since around mid-March in a partial lockdown after more than 2,300 people were infected in the country's biggest outbreak, following a religious gathering at a mosque attended by about 16,000 people.

Although new daily cases have declined steadily, schools and colleges will stay closed until June 9. Health authorities identified six clusters involving Islamic religious schools, with 635 students and staff testing positive.

Four clusters were linked to the March gathering.