WHO warns of Easter, Ramadan virus surge

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A World Health Organisation official has warned of a possible surge in coronavirus infections in the Middle East region during the Islamic month of Ramadan and the Easter holiday.

Some Christians will celebrate Easter this weekend, while others, such as Egypt's Coptic Christians, will celebrate in May.

Ramadan, where observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, is scheduled to start around mid-April.

Muslims usually celebrate by large social and religious gatherings, such as mass prayers, where mosques are traditionally packed.

Ahmed al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, warned that 14 countries in the region have reported a high increase in their daily coronavirus infections and related-deaths, such as Jordan and Iran.

"The situation is not getting better and the direction many countries are going towards is worrying," he said during an online press briefing.

As Ramadan and Easter approach, "there is a danger of seeing (further) increases in the cases as was the case at the end of last year during the holidays. We realise that these are important occasions that deserve to be celebrated but we urge you to protect yourselves and others," al-Mandhari added.

Some places in the region including Egypt and Dubai said they will ban public charity banquets, an age-old feature of the month.

Both said they will allow Ramadan's nightly "taraweeh" prayers but limited them to half an hour.

In Jordan, worshippers will not perform taraweeh at mosques due to a night-time curfew imposed until May 15.