CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt will ban any public religious gatherings during the holy Muslim fasting month Ramadan starting in around two weeks to counter the spread of the new coronavirus, a government statement said on Tuesday.
Muslims usually break the fast at sunset together with their families, go to the mosque to pray and spend maximum time with relatives.
Despite the government order, people should still fast as this ritual had no link to the coronavirus, said a committee of scholars at Cairo's al-Azhar university, Egypt's highest religious authority and one of the world's most eminent seats of Sunni Muslim learning.
Only the usual exemptions apply, it said in a statement. Travel or sickness are reasons not to fast.
But with health experts recommending social-distancing measures during the global coronavirus crisis, Egypt will ban any gatherings and public iftars - fast-breaking meals - as well as collective social activities, the ministry of Islamic endowments said in a separate statement.
Typically, mass iftars are held for poor people.
The ban will also apply to the seclusion of Itikaf when Muslims spend the last 10 days of the month in mosques to pray and meditate, the ministry said.
Egypt, a country of around 100 million people, has reported more than 1,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus with more than 250 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
Ramadan will start around April 23, depending on the sighting of the moon marking the start of the month.
Egypt last month ordered mosques and churches to shut their doors to worshippers to help prevent transmission of the coronavirus. Prayer calls are broadcast via loudspeakers.
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Mahmoud Mourad and Ulf Laessing Editing by Grant McCool and Mark Heinrich)