Virus lockdowns affect Eid celebrations in Mideast
May 25 2020 12:26 AM
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Palestinians perform Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) restrictions, outside the compound housing Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, yesterday.

AFP/Riyadh

Muslims around the world began marking a sombre Eid al-Fitr yesterday, many under coronavirus lockdown, but lax restrictions offered respite to worshippers in some countries despite fears of skyrocketing infections.
The three-day festival, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping for new clothes, gifts and sweet treats.
 But this year, the celebration in the Middle East like elsewhere is overshadowed by the fast-spreading coronavirus, with many countries tightening lockdown restrictions after a partial easing during Ramadan led to a sharp spike in infections.
 Further dampening the festive spirit, many countries have banned mass prayer gatherings to limit the spread of the disease.
 Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, began a five-day round-the-clock curfew from Saturday after infections more than quadrupled since the start of Ramadan to over 72,000 — the highest in the Gulf. Makkah’s Grand Mosque has been almost devoid of worshippers since March.
 At Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, prayers were not permitted inside, although the site is expected to reopen after the Eid holiday. 
 Small scuffles broke out between Israeli security forces and worshippers gathering around the mosque at dawn, although prayers eventually went ahead outside, an AFP photographer said. 
 In Gaza, Hamas authorities allowed prayers in mosques despite the enclave’s first coronavirus death on Saturday, but worshippers mostly wore masks and placed their prayer mats far apart.
 “Eid is not Eid with the atmosphere of coronavirus —  people feel a sense of fear,” worshipper Akram Taher said. 
Covid-19 death tolls across the Middle East and Asia have been lower than in Europe and the United States, but numbers are rising steadily, sparking fears the virus may overwhelm often underfunded healthcare systems.
 Iran, which has experienced the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak, called on its citizens to avoid travel during Eid as it battles to control infection rates. Health Minister Saeed Namaki said the country was focusing hard on avoiding “new peaks of the disease” caused by people “not respecting health regulations”.
 The United Arab Emirates has tightened its lockdown which had been relaxed during Ramadan, but that did not stop some families from planning getaways to luxury beachfront hotels. However, Muslims in many countries steeled themselves for frugal celebrations amid growing financial distress.
 The twin shocks of coronavirus restrictions and falling oil prices have plunged the Gulf region into its worst economic crisis in decades.
 The lockdowns have hit businesses hard, including retailers normally buoyed by the festive rush, as Muslims save their money for masks, gloves and other protective gear.
 In the Syrian capital Damascus, Eid shoppers had rummaged through flea markets for clothes at bargain prices as the war-ravaged and sanctions-hit country grapples with a much more entrenched economic crisis.
 “The flea market is the only place I can buy something new to wear for the Eid holidays,” 28-year-old Sham Alloush said. “Had it not been for this place, I wouldn’t have been able to buy new clothes at all.”



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