Masked and restricted by COVID-19, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr


Muslims pray outside the closed National Mosque while celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival marking the end the holy fasting month of Ramadan, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 13, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

(Reuters) - People across Asia celebrated Eid al-Fitr with masks and prayers, but in many places COVID-19 restrictions were in place to limit the joyous mass gatherings and family reunions that usually mark the Muslim holiday.

Millions of people across the continent would typically travel to their hometowns to celebrate with their families and crowd markets, shopping malls and mosques - scenes the authorities in hard-hit countries are trying to avoid.

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, the faithful wore masks as they arrived at the Dian Al-Mahri mosque in Depok, a city to the south of Indonesian capital Jakarta, and they sanitised their hands before going in.

At the entrance, a poster outlining six steps recommended by the World Health Organisation to prevent the spread of COVID-19 served as a stern reminder of the danger in a country that has the highest number of cases and deaths in Southeast Asia.

"(We are) very lucky that we can pray together this year, when we couldn't do it last year," said Tri Haryati Ningsih, 53.

"Especially when the pandemic is still going on, we are still allowed to worship together this year, with health protocols in place. Hopefully, the coronavirus will pass quickly and we can always worship together," she said.

From Indonesia to Pakistan, governments have imposed restrictions to contain the spread of the virus during Eid, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Indonesia has banned domestic travel until May 17, while Malaysia imposed a new national lockdown on Monday ahead of the festival.

Pakistan last month announced an extended holiday around Eid and extra safety restrictions aimed at reducing mass travel during the celebrations.

The government urged people to stay at home after the country suffered a record number of COVID-related deaths during Ramadan, and ordered the closure of malls, non-essential shops and the public transport system during the holiday.

MOSQUES SHUT

Eid starts at different times in different places as the timing depends on when the local religious authorities sight the moon.

In India, celebrations are likely to be muted with nearly two thirds of the country under some sort or movement restrictions due to the acute COVID-19 crisis there.

In New Delhi and other cities, Eid prayer services at major mosques will be limited to between five and 10 clerics and staff and will not be open to the general public.

Some smaller mosques will shut altogether, with clerics asking the faithful to pray from home.

Soaring numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in India have overwhelmed the health system, leaving many patients without oxygen, hospital beds and adequate treatment.

At the mosque in Depok, Indonesia, worshippers were praying for the coronavirus to end soon.

"My biggest hope is that the COVID-19 pandemic will quickly pass and things return to ... what it was before, so that we can meet with our family and relatives again, and we don't feel lonely anymore," said Cici Permata, 27.

(Reporting by Johan Purnomo in Depok, Indonesia, Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad and Aftab Ahmed in New Delhi; Writing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by Estelle Shirbon)

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