Bangladesh bans mass gatherings after tens of thousands pray for virus protection

Bangladesh has banned all kinds of political, social, cultural and religious gatherings a day after tens of thousands of people gathered for a mass prayer session which caused fears of a wider coronavirus outbreak.

The Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary, Dr Ahmad Kaikaus, announced the decision on Thursday.

He told adminitrators: “All sorts of political, social, cultural and religious gatherings have been banned. You must ensure it… people with fever, cough and influenza have been advised to avoid public transport. Even transport workers having such symptoms have been advised to abstain from work.”

Kaikaus said the government’s policy is not to enforce any lockdown, but rather to take measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.

According to the law, whoever does not comply will be punished with imprisonment, a fine or both.

Since the beginning of March, Bangladesh has recorded 17 Covid-19 cases, with only one death. However, many experts are sceptical over the official figures.

Meanwhile, local police chief Tota Miah told AFP news agency that 10,000 Muslims gathered in Raipur town yesterday to pray “healing verses” from the Quran. Some eyewitnesses said the figure was closer to 30,000.

Mr Miah said organisers did not get permission from the authorities to hold the event – though such local gatherings in Bangladesh often do not rely on getting official permits.

BBC Bengali’s correspondent Akbar Hossain spoke to locals who said the event was organised by a religious leader who held a certain amount of “influence” in the small town. He urged people to join him in praying for protection from the virus, and after the event told people that they would now be “free from the coronavirus.”

The development comes as a religious event in Malaysia was confirmed as the source of more than 500 local infections there. The event, which was attended by 16,000 people, has also led to infections in neighbouring Brunei, Singapore and Cambodia.

Malaysia’s government later banned all public gatherings in the country and locked down its borders to prevent the further spread of the virus.

A similar mass religious gathering in Indonesia, due to be held later this week, has now been cancelled for fear that a similar outbreak could take place.

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