March 4, 2020 / 2:40 PM / in 25 days

Tajikistan closes mosques to fend off coronavirus threat

DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Tajikistan’s national council of clerics told mosques on Wednesday to suspend public gatherings, including Friday prayers but excluding burial rites, to protect against the coronavirus, even though the country has not reported any cases.

The Muslim-majority nation of 9 million people bordering China and Afghanistan has shut its border to citizens from both neighbours as well as South Korea, Iran and Italy, all hard hit by the coronavirus. The outbreak originated in China.

Authorities also said on Wednesday they were cancelling traditional public festivities related to the Nowruz holiday, or Persian New Year, celebrated from March 21-25.

The holiday usually involves large concerts and sports events.

Separately, the government said it was suspending the issuance of work permits to nationals of China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Afghanistan, a move that may affect the local projects of Chinese firms, the biggest investors in Tajikistan.

Chinese workers accounted for 90% of permits issued last year and the government planned to issue a total of 7,000 permits this year.

Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Nick Macfie and Angus MacSwan

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