A massive coronavirus prayer session with tens of thousands of devotees has sparked an outcry in Bangladesh as the country reported its first death from the illness.
Local police chief Tota Miah said some 10,000 Muslims gathered in an open field in Raipur town in southern Bangladesh to pray 'healing verses' from the Koran to rid the country of the deadly virus.
'They held the Khatme Shifa prayers after dawn to free the country from the coronavirus,' Miah told AFP.
Organisers claimed the number of worshippers reached 25,000.
Police said organisers did not get permission from authorities to hold the session.
Photos of the gathering were widely shared on social media, with commenters slamming the massive rally.
It comes as other mass gatherings around the world have been cancelled to help stop the spread of the deadly virus, including religious events.
Authorities in Bangladesh have already shut schools and asked locals to avoid large gatherings in an effort to halt the spread of the disease.
'Unbelievable how they have done it without notifying the police? They will be held responsible if anything happens to the people in the region,' Abdur Rahman wrote on Facebook.
Despite the appeal from authorities to avoid crowded public areas, many took the opportunity to head to tourism sites.
Police said they had to close two beaches, including one at Cox's Bazar, the main resort district of the country, and which is home to nearly one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
A senior leader from the ruling Awami League, Obaidul Quader, said a lockdown might be required to contain the virus.
'If necessary, Bangladesh will be shut down. It'll be enforced where necessary. People must be saved first. We'll do everything for that,' he told reporters.
The religious event at Raipur in Lakshmipur district came as Bangladesh confirmed its first death due to the virus.
The number of positive cases in the country of 168 million people stands at 14, although some medical experts fear not enough tests are being conducted.
It comes as the Prime Minister in neighbouring India yesterday appealed to its 1.3 billion population to follow a one-day curfew alongside a ban on international flight arrivals to combat the coronavirus.
Narendra Modi told people the curfew on Sunday from 7.00am to 9.00pm would test the country's ability to take tough measures against what he called a growing 'crisis'.
The government says there have been 173 infections and four deaths from the virus.
Muslims in Indonesia have also been divided over Friday prayers amid coronavirus fears.
While many Muslims in Indonesia's capital Jakarta accepted advice to avoid religious gatherings and prayed at home on Friday, elsewhere in the world's most populous Muslim country, people ignored the risk of coronavirus and crowded into their mosques.
A religious gathering in Malaysia late last month attended by some 16,000 people generated about 670 coronavirus cases across the region, including 576 in Malaysia, 61 in Brunei and 22 in Cambodia. At least 13 Indonesians were also infected.
Indonesia has reported 309 cases in all but the figure is rising and medical experts warn the number of infections is likely to be higher. Twenty-five people have died in Indonesia.
But some Muslims trusted in their faith to keep them safe.
'Allah is protecting those who abide by their obligations,' said Aswin Jusar, 76, in the town of Depok, south of Jakarta, as he prepared to attend Friday prayers as usual despite a call from the mayor for religious activities to be suspended.
Depok has recorded several coronavirus cases and Yunizar, 65, the caretaker of the mosque, said while he was worried, he decided to go ahead with prayers anyway. The mosque had some extra cleaning and more soap was provided, he said.
In the teeming capital of Jakarta, the governor has suspended all religious activities for two weeks while President Joko Widodo has spoken of a 'need to evaluate religious events that involve many people'.
At southeast Asia's biggest mosque, the Istiqlal in Jakarta, Friday prayers were off. Its imam, Nasaruddin Umar, cited an edict from the Indonesian Council of Ulama stressing the need for social distancing.
'There's enough of a reason to avoid such religious gatherings,' Umar told a news conference.
A rally of Muslim pilgrims in South Sulawesi province was cancelled on Thursday, but only after thousands had already attended.
At a mosque in Tangerang, west of Jakarta, one worshipper said he was worried about the virus but still went out for Friday prayers because authorities had not imposed a ban.
'I hope Allah still protects me. I brought my own mat,' the man, who identified himself as Achmad, told Reuters.
'I don't know if we'll stand close to each other or not, it's quite crowded here.'
In Malaysia, still reeling for the explosion of cases at the recent religious gathering, weekly prayers were called off.
'When we mention Friday prayers, please abide by the instructions,' Minister of Religious Affairs Zulkifli Mohd Al-Bakri said on Thursday.
It was vital to break chains of coronavirus infections and people should pray at home with their families, he said.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.