Worshippers packed Mauritania’s largest mosque on Friday, mostly ignoring social distancing rules, after the West African state lifted restrictions on public prayers meant to curb coronavirus infections.
The government said this week it would “progressively ease” a series of anti-virus measures, allowing markets to open and mosques to hold Friday prayers again in the conservative Muslim nation.
Mauritania has been one of the countries in the region least affected by the novel coronavirus, having registered just eight cases to date, and one fatality, among a population of four million people.
It nonetheless enacted strict measures to stem the virus, such as shutting its borders, banning mosque prayers, closing markets, and imposing a night-time curfew nationwide.
On Friday, the faithful pressed into the capital Nouakchott’s Saudi-built central mosque – Mauritania’s largest – to pray.
“This pandemic has put us in a hole,” said Ly Almamy, an official. “With this opening of the mosque, we still have hope.”
Another worshipper, Dia Mamadou, rushed to take his place in the front row.
“Just as we need bread for our physical survival, we need prayer to nourish our mind and our faith,” he said, his voice muffled through his face mask.
But he was one of the few people wearing a mask, an AFP journalist said, despite government rules mandating their use.
Worshippers must also wash their hands with soap before entering mosques and keep their distance from each other, according to the government, which has warned it could revisit the relaxation of the restrictions.
Most of the arid country’s other anti-virus measures remain in place. The government has established a committee to examine lifting them, however.