A mass gathering at the end of last month at a mosque complex near Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur has emerged as the source of hundreds of new coronavirus infections spanning South-east Asia.
A 34-year-old Malaysian man who attended the event died on Tuesday, Malaysia’s Minister of Health Adham Baba said – the first death linked to the Feb 27-March 1 event at the Sri Petaling mosque compound.
The event was attended by 16,000 people, including 1,500 foreigners.
Out of Malaysia’s 673 confirmed coronavirus cases, nearly two-thirds are linked to the four-day meeting, Mr Adham said. It is not clear who brought the virus there in the first place.
The hosts, the Islamic missionary movement Tablighi Jama’at, suspended missionary activities on Monday but did not comment directly on the Malaysian event. The mosque where the event was held was closed on Tuesday.
The packed gathering was attended by nationals from dozens of countries, including Canada, Nigeria, India and Australia, according to an attendee list posted on social media.
There were also citizens of China and South Korea – two countries with high rates of coronavirus infections.
Social media posts show hundreds of worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder inside the mosque, while some guests posted selfies as they shared food.
Only half of the Malaysian participants who attended have come forward for testing, the health minister has said, raising fears that the outbreak from the mosque could be more far-reaching.
Brunei has confirmed 50 cases linked to the mosque gathering, out of a total of 56 cases. Singapore has announced five linked to the event, Cambodia 13 and Thailand at least two.
Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, which had nearly 700 of its citizens attend, are all investigating.
Malaysia plans to shut its borders, restrict internal movement and close schools, universities and most businesses, as it seeks to control its coronavirus outbreak. All mosques will be closed for two weeks.
The Prime Minister’s office and the health ministry declined to comment further about the event.