SINGAPORE: All mosques in Singapore will remain closed until Mar 26 to prevent further spread of COVID-19, said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) on Monday (Mar 16).
MUIS first announced on Mar 13 that mosques would close for five days for cleaning after several congregants tested positive for the coronavirus following a religious gathering in Malaysia.
"Subsequent contact tracing by the Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed that the five infected individuals frequented at least 10 mosques during their infectious period," said MUIS in a statement, adding that the list of mosques was disseminated and members of the public who had attended them were advised to monitor their health.
MOH found that 101 people here had attended the religious gathering in Malaysia, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli told media on Monday.
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"Even with the increased pre-emptive measures and temporary closures of our mosques, it is possible for more cases to emerge through secondary transmission, either from close contacts of the five infected individuals or from among members of the community who had visited the 10 mosques," said MUIS.
"It is not possible to identify and trace all persons in the second category as our mosques do not operate on a membership system and lacks a register of exclusive regular congregants. This means contact tracing will not be a sufficient measure to prevent onward transmission of the virus," it added.
MUIS said, after consulting with MOH, that it is of the view that the risk of a large cluster forming from the participants of the gathering in Malaysia "continues to be real".
"The religious justification to close the mosque and suspend Friday prayers, in the form of the fatwa issued by the Fatwa Committee, still applies," said MUIS.
It added that it has accepted MOH's recommendation to extend the closure for an additional nine days, "completing one incubation period to break the cycle of transmission".
On Monday, Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) also recommended that all mosques in the country be closed for 10 days and that activities including the Friday prayers be suspended, based on advice from the country's health ministry.
MEASURES TO BE TAKEN UPON RE-OPENING
Upon re-opening of the mosques, enhanced measures will be implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Among them are mandatory temperature-taking of all congregants, requiring congregants to bring their own personal prayer items such as prayer mats and telekung (prayer garments), as well as conducting "physical checks to identify at-risk congregants" and turning away those who are unwell, said MUIS.
A "full contact-tracing regimen" will also be instituted, it said, adding that there will also be no handshakes at the end of prayers or other physical greetings.
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"Meanwhile, in meeting the community's spiritual needs, mosques will resume the azan (call to prayer), which will be adapted with a call to the community to perform prayers at home," said MUIS.
Elaborating during a press conference on Monday, Mr Masagos said the azan will continue to be sounded five times a day, but it will contain a "modification", calling Muslims to "do their prayers at home".
"The same call to prayer that you hear on the radio at home will also be adjusted as such," he said.
Mr Masagos said this has been practised elsewhere before in "many places around the world", but "it is the first time (Singapore) is putting this into practice".
Mufti Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir said this is being done to remind the community of its religious duties but "in the context of the challenges being faced".
Mr Masagos said that when the mosques reopen on Mar 27, which is a Friday, some mosques here will conduct a trial of having two congregational Friday prayers, instead of one.
These will be conducted at fixed timings, which congregants will be informed of ahead of time, said Mr Masagos, who is also the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.
This is being done to reduce the number of people congregating in the mosques at any one time, he said.
The initiative will begin with four mosques - Masjid An-Nur in Woodlands, Masjid Maarof in Jurong West, Masjid Muhajirin in Toa Payoh and Masjid Mujahidin in Queenstown.
"As we learn to how to operationalise it, we will do it in more mosques," added Mr Masagos.
Friday prayers at all mosques will also be limited to no more than 30 minutes, he added.
The sermons delivered during these sessions will be abridged versions, noted Dr Nazirudin, adding that longer versions of the sermons would be made available online.
Software is also being tested to inform people how many people are already at a particular mosque to prevent overcrowding, said Mr Masagos.
Having many people in one area over an extended period of time, with a lot of interaction - as is the case with many religious activities - has a very high chance of resulting in secondary infections, he said.
Putting into place such precautionary measures would act as a "circuit break" for such infections, said Mr Masagos, adding this is based on experience with other clusters such as the SAFRA Jurong cluster and the two church clusters.
"The Office of the Mufti will also work with mosques to produce more Islamic learning and talks via online content," said MUIS.
"Working together with the mosques, the community can ensure that Muslim religious life can continue with the necessary adjustments. This is the best way to prevent large clusters from developing and spreading beyond the community," it added.