MAKKAH: The faithful offer first Fajr prayers of Ramazan at the Grand Mosque on Tuesday.—AP
MAKKAH: The faithful offer first Fajr prayers of Ramazan at the Grand Mosque on Tuesday.—AP

JAKARTA: Surging coronavirus cases in many parts of the world overshadowed the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramazan on Tuesday, with festivities curtailed by contagion fears.

Europe, the worst-hit continent, passed the threshold of one million coronavirus deaths, while South Asian countries battle a spiraling outbreak of the disease that has crippled the global economy.

Vaccination drives are giving hope to people fed up with restrictions that are well into a second year, and India — which is experiencing a record surge in cases — was given a boost as it authorised Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 drug.

The total number of virus deaths is approaching three million, according to an AFP tally of official data, as the World Health Organisation warned infections are rising exponentially despite efforts aimed at stopping them.

Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta welcomes worshippers after more than a year of closure because of the pandemic

From Indonesia to Egypt, many Muslims around the world started Ramazan after religious leaders confirmed the month of fasting would begin on Tuesday, many facing virus restrictions.

Jakarta’s newly renovated Istiqlal Mosque — Southeast Asia’s largest — welcomed worshippers for the first time on Monday night after more than a year of closure because of the pandemic.

Mohamad Fathi, a resident of the Indonesian capital, told AFP this year’s Ramazan was happier than in 2020, when people were banned from taking part in taraweeh prayers.

“Last year it was gloomy as we were not allowed to go to the mosque for taraweeh,” he said.

“But this year, I am so happy finally we can go to the mosque to perform taraweeh at the mosque although we are under strict health protocol during the prayer.”

The government of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation has imposed limits, with mosques only able to host people at a maximum of 50 per cent capacity. Worshippers are required to wear masks and bring their own prayer mats.

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest shrines, announced that the fasting month was to start on Tuesday, though authorities said only people inoculated against Covid-19 will be allowed to perform the year-round Umra pilgrimage from the start of Ramazan.

In Egypt, restrictions were much less stringent than last year as people took to the streets to mark the start of the fasting month.

Pakistanis will only begin fasting on Wednesday after rival moon-sighting committees agreed to a nationally applied start of Ramazan in the country.

With the country in the grip of a third wave of the coronavirus —the deadliest so far — the government urged mosques to only allow prayers in open courtyards and to strictly enforce social distancing to avoid the same spike in cases which followed last year’s Ramazan.

But shoppers thronged markets on Tuesday ahead of fasting, sparking anxiety among some.

“We have been pleading with people to wear masks and keep their distance but it seems too much for them... people are still not ready to accept that there is a virus and we are going through a pandemic,” said Zubair Mehmood, a shopkeeper in Rawalpindi.

In India — home to 1.3 billion people — health officials have been battling a huge surge in cases in recent weeks that has prompted night curfews and a clampdown on movement and activities. The country on Monday reported more than 161,000 new cases — the seventh-consecutive day that more than 100,000 infections have been recorded.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2021

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