As COVID cases spike, Middle East countries restrict Ramadan activities

Turkey, Iran, Oman, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon experience particularly high volume of new infections.

A Jordanian Imam reads the Koran in an empty mosque during Ramadan as prayers by worshipers are suspended due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Amman, Jordan, April 26, 2020. (photo credit: MOHAMMAD HAMED / REUTERS)
A Jordanian Imam reads the Koran in an empty mosque during Ramadan as prayers by worshipers are suspended due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Amman, Jordan, April 26, 2020.
(photo credit: MOHAMMAD HAMED / REUTERS)
 Several countries in the Middle East are experiencing a surge in coronavirus infections, leading governments to curtail nighttime festivities during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
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Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan instituted a partial lockdown for the first half of Ramadan and extended the weekend curfews to May 17, with the restrictions to begin at 7 pm instead of 9 pm. The measures also included the closure of recreational areas and measures such as banning the use of public transportation for seniors. Turkey has the fourth-highest rate of new COVID-19 cases worldwide, according to Reuters. 
Iran is in the middle of a nationwide lockdown set to end at the beginning of next week. This follows an increase in infections after Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which begins on the first day of spring. This week, the country hit a 2021 record for deaths on one day of 258. 
On Wednesday evening, Oman announced an evening curfew for Ramadan following a spike in cases that leaves the country facing a shortage of hospital beds.
In Syria on Tuesday, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava, put in place a curfew in locales controlled by Kurdish forces.
Iraq on Monday, after recording its highest number of cases last week, declared a partial lockdown throughout Ramadan during workdays, which will transition to a complete lockdown on weekends.
That same day, Lebanon greenlighted rules limiting when people can venture out at night during the holiday.
Also on Monday, Kuwait’s cabinet limited the duration of the Tarawih evening prayer –performed during Ramadan in addition to the nightly Isha prayer – at mosques to 15 minutes and prohibited all communal break-fast events at night, whether in public or private. This went further than Saudi Arabia, which only stopped outside of the home gatherings when eating is allowed.
The World Health Organization acknowledged the regional rise in cases this week when it tweeted some of the remarks of its director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, following a media briefing on Monday: “Several countries in Asia and the Middle East have seen large increases in #COVID19 cases. This is despite the fact that more than 780 million doses of vaccine have now been administered globally.”
Still, not all countries in the MENA region face increasing restrictions on movement, for example, Jordan and Egypt, which enjoy more open economies than they did 12 months ago. In the latter nation, people can dine at restaurants indoors and freely go to mosques with coronavirus safety measures in place.
Steve Ganot contributed to this report.