Egypt Copts suspend Holy Week services over virus



A volunteer wearing a face mask disinfects a tuk-tuk as a measure against the coronavirus pandemic, in the village of Shamma in Egypt's northern Nile delta province of Menoufia on April 1st. [Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP]

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church will suspend prayers preceding Easter celebrations as part of efforts to stem the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Coptic church, which last month ordered the closure of churches and suspension of services nationwide, said the decision was taken Thursday (April 2nd) during a meeting chaired by Pope Tawadros II.

"Prayers, including Holy Week services, which are considered the most important rituals in the Coptic Orthodox church, will be suspended" until the pandemic is contained, a statement posted on social media said.

Holy Week prayers precede Easter Sunday, which this year will be celebrated on April 19th by the Orthodox community, one week later than the Catholic Easter.

Church spokesman Boulos Halim said these were "unprecedented and historic" measures implemented to stem the crisis.

On March 21st, the church ordered the closure of all churches and suspended services, masses and other religious activities for two weeks.

With Thursday's decision, these measures will continue until further notice.

Egypt's Catholic church also is suspending masses until further notice.

Cairo medics test positive for virus

Egypt's main cancer treatment facility meanwhile reported 17 cases of coronavirus among its medical staff, Cairo University said Saturday.

Cairo University, with which the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is affiliated, said "17 doctors and nurses" at the NCI had contracted COVID-19.

Earlier in the day, NCI director Hatem Abulkassem had told a private TV channel that three doctors and 12 nurses were infected.

Abulkassem said the facility would be sterilised and patients who were in contact with the medics would be tested, along with all staff members.

He said patient visits had been suspended in recent weeks.

"It is tough to trace where the first infection emerged as the majority of the medical personnel work in several other places," Abulkassem added.

Last month, several Egyptian hospitals were closed for sterilisation after cases were detected there.

Egypt so far has recorded 78 deaths out of 1,173 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Authorities have imposed tough measures to limit social interaction in the country, including a night-time curfew that went into effect last week. Schools and universities are closed, and air traffic has been halted until April 15th.

Those violating the measures could face fines of up to 4,000 Egyptian pounds ($250) and jail sentences.

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