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Saudi halts prayers in mosques over coronavirus

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Riyadh (AFP)

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday suspended prayers inside all but the holiest two mosques in Islam as the kingdom steps up efforts to contain the new coronavirus, state media reported.

Mosques will be temporarily shut for the five daily Islamic prayers as well as the weekly Friday prayers, the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing the council of senior scholars -- the kingdom's highest religious body.

It said mosques would continue to issue the ritual call to prayer.

The decision seeks to direct worshippers to pray at home but does not affect prayers in Mecca's Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, it added.

The announcement risks riling fringe hardliners for whom religion trumps health considerations.

Saudi Arabia has reported 171 coronavirus cases, but no deaths so far.

The Arab world's biggest economy has shut down cinemas, malls and restaurants, halted flights and suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage in a bid to contain the deadly virus.

More than 1,000 cases of the virus have been recorded so far across the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

On Monday, Bahrain's health ministry said a woman had died from the coronavirus, the first death from the disease among GCC states.

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