ISTANBUL (Dispatches) – Turkey suspended mass prayers in mosques until the risk of coronavirus outbreak passes, the head of Turkey’s religious directorate, Ali Erbas said on Monday.
Speaking to reporters, Erbas said the mosques will be kept open for individual prayers.
Turkey identified a total to 18 coronavirus cases, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday. The government has ramped up measures to halt the spread of the virus, closing schools and universities, holding sports events without spectators.
Last Wednesday, Turkey became the last major economy to report an outbreak after taking what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as "vigilant” measures to delay it.
Since then, the government has ramped up measures to halt the spread of the virus.
The Istanbul governor’s office said on Monday that Turkish citizens who request to return from nine European countries will be brought back until midnight on March 17 on condition that they are quarantined. They will be housed for 14 days in three student dormitories in Istanbul, the city’s governor said.
The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) warned on Monday that the real number of cases may be higher than officially reported, and the recent trend indicated that the epidemic could reach serious levels.
"We are hearing from doctors all around the country that the number of cases is much higher than 18,” TTB head Sinan Adiyaman told a news conference.
"The picture emerging in the last few days suggests that the epidemic could reach serious levels, we advise those older than 65 to stay at home,” he said.
Separately, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said on Monday that all non-emergency court hearings will be delayed.
Thousands of Muslims returning to Turkey from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia were taken into quarantine on Sunday and the Interior Ministry said that bars and nightclubs will be closed from Monday to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.