Churchgoers in Dubai have been told to stay at home if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Tens of thousands of people were expected to visit places of worship this weekend across the city. While religious leaders said their doors would remain open, they called for anyone feeling unwell to think twice about going to mass, as they tried to curb the spread of coronavirus.
They also called for people not to panic and to follow the instructions from health authorities as they tried to come to grips with the outbreak.
“We are telling people if they think they might have a cold to stay at home,” said Father Reinhold Sahner, Parish Priest at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Dubai’s Jebel Ali district.
“It’s been more or less business as usual but we are asking people to adhere to the guidelines laid out by the health authorities and government here.”
Mr Sahner said he was expecting around 20,000 people to attend the various masses in the parish at the weekend.
He said the church also welcomed around 500-600 visitors each day during the week.
“We’ve also set up sanitising stations across the church and in the classrooms we have as well,” he said.
“At the moment we are telling the parents it’s completely up to them if they want to send the children to attend the classes.”
St Francis’ has a number of classrooms on the property, which were used to help educate children on sacraments such as their first holy communion and confirmation as well as studying the bible.
Up to 3,000 children attend the classes, which are held in different languages to accommodate the various nationalities in the parish, each week, Mr Sahner said.
He said the spread of coronavirus had yet to affect the numbers of people showing up at masses at St Francis’.
“So far I haven’t recognised any fall in the numbers attending mass..
“We are praying there will hopefully be a vaccine and in the meantime we are telling people not to panic.”
At the neighbouring Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh temple, also located in Dubai’s Jebel Ali, heat scanners have been installed to detect any worshippers with abnormally high body temperatures.
“We have placed temperature scanners at all the points of entry,” said Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of the temple.
"They will flag up anyone whose temperature is more than 37°C."
The scanners are similar to the devices installed at airports across the UAE to detect raised body temperatures, potentially caused by the virus.
“We’ve sanitisers all over the temple and we’ve been ensuring that all the floors and toilets are completely sterilised,” he said.
“We’ve also been putting up notices to advise people on what measures needed to be taken to combat the virus.”
Mr Kandhari said 15,000 people were expected to visit the temple on Friday alone.
It was not just people from the Sikh community who were expected to attend this weekend. The building has visitors from all faiths and provides free meals for 1,500 visitors each day.
This week, authorities said a sterilisation operation was under way at mosques across the country to help curb the spread of the virus.
Places of worship and Quran centres in the Emirates will be sterilised as part of efforts to safeguard public health, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments said.
Carpets, books, shelves and podiums used by imams will be replaced with new furniture that is easier to clean.
The move came as Muslims were told not to attend prayers in mosques if they were feeling unwell or their immune system had been compromised.
The country’s Fatwa Council on Tuesday said anyone at risk of potentially contracting coronavirus – including senior citizens, those suffering from a respiratory disease and people who have weakened immune systems – should avoid going to mosques and pray at home instead.
Mohammed Ayman, imam of Omeir Bin Yousuf Mosque in Abu Dhabi, said all mosques had been sent a notice from Awqaf – the religious authority - to read to worshippers after evening prayers.
“The circular says any person who feels unwell should stay home, they also instructed us to shorten prayer time,” he said. “Also the Friday sermon should be made short.”
Ghalia Omar, a Sharjah resident, said she stopped going to the mosque last week because she was worried about contracting the virus.
"I really hope they will change the carpet because that could be the biggest threat," she said.
Mrs Omar has prayed at Al Noor Mosque, where she also takes Quran classes, for the past two years but suggested the classes be moved online instead.
Quran classes were suspended at Omeir Bin Yousuf Mosque and a quran memorisation centre in Khalifa City A in Abu Dhabi this week.
“They are sterilising the mosque that is why they held off classes,” said the teacher, who preferred not to be named.”
She said they had not been told if virtual lessons would be implemented.
“Nobody will die before their time so whether it was coronavirus or not, one who is destined to live will live and vice versa.
“It is mandatory to take precautions of course, but not to panic.”