Jordan halts Friday prayers in new coronavirus bans

Health Minister warns of 'pain' if new measures are not observed

Men wearing protective face masks attend Friday prayers at al-Husseini mosque, as Jordan announced stricter measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Amman, Jordan February 26, 2021. REUTERS/Muath Freij      NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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Jordanian authorities imposed new virus restrictions on Wednesday, halting Friday prayers and extending bans on movement and business to stem a surge in infections and deaths.

Government spokesman Sakher Dudin said a daily curfew would be three hours longer, starting at 7pm and ending at 6am, and businesses would not be allowed to operate for 12 hours after 6pm.

The new measures will start on Saturday, Mr Dudin said.

An all-day curfew on Friday will remain in place but a suspension for one hour to attend the week's main prayers was scrapped.

"Sadly, Friday prayers will be suspended," Mr Dudin said.

Health Minister Nazir Obeidat said a "fast spread" of the virus made the new measures necessary.

"We do not have a choice," Mr Obeidat said. "The results will be harsh and painful if the cautionary measures are not adhered to."

He said the pandemic in Jordan had spread well beyond the official figures, based on testing, of 449,000 recorded infections and 5,106 deaths.

The government reimposed bans last month and toughened penalties for breaking rules after infection numbers rapidly rose.

Officials said a more infectious strain of the virus, which was first reported in Britain, has been largely behind the increase.

Jordan, which is in recession, has gone through cycles of virus bans and easing restrictions.

Officials say lack of observance for the rules, which came from emergency law, is widespread.

King Abdullah this week replaced the interior and justice ministers after they breached coronavirus rules by attending a large banquet at a restaurant.

The two men were among the highest-level officials in charge of enforcing the rules.