As mosques reopen in West Africa, coronavirus fears grow
By AP News | May 18th 2020
It's been a Ramadhan unlike any other for Abdourahmane Sall, far from the mosque during the Muslim holy month as coronavirus cases mount.
With only a little over a week left, he decided joining thousands of others in tradition was worth the risk after authorities allowed prayers to resume.
Men formed orderly lines outside the Massalikul Jinaan mosque in Dakar as they waited to receive hand sanitiser before entering while uniformed police watched on nearby.
Inside, some 2,000 men set their prayer mats 1.5 meters apart while 3,000 others spread out into the courtyard of West Africa's largest mosque.
"We are being careful but to be honest we cannot escape the virus," said Sall, a 58-year-old tailor in a flowing orange tunic and face mask made of thick fabric. "If we abide by the precautions that health officials tell us, then God will protect us."
The World Health Organisation has warned that as many as 190,000 Africans could die from the coronavirus in the first year of the pandemic, and countless more from other diseases as the continent's limited medical resources are stretched even further.
But across West Africa, countries are finding it increasingly difficult to keep mosques closed during Ramadhan even as confirmed virus cases mount and testing remains limited.
The holy month is already a time of heightened spiritual devotion for Muslims, and many say prayer is now more important than ever.
Last week Niger and Senegal allowed mass prayers to resume, and Liberia reopened its houses of worship yesterday. In Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, several states recently signalled the reopening of mosques even as the number of confirmed cases nationwide exceeded 5,000.
The warnings about resuming public gatherings are being made worldwide — but the stakes are particularly high in West Africa, where countries with fewer hospitals and ventilators have been prioritising disease prevention as a public health strategy. With a large diaspora population in Europe, Senegal was among the first African countries to report Covid-19 cases as citizens returned home, but it has maintained a relatively low death toll despite having never enforced a total lockdown.
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