Asia Today: Indonesians return to mosques, at a distance

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A giant statue of the Thai spiritual Nagkwank is dressed with a face mask at the Siam museum in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 29, 2020. Nagkwank is a benevolent spirit who is deemed to bring luck and prosperity. She is the patron deity of all merchants and salesmen and can be seen in very many business establishments in Thailand. Thai authorities allowed museum and other businesses to reopen, selectively easing restrictions against the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

MANILA – Muslims in some parts of Indonesia attended Friday prayers as mosques closed by the coronavirus for weeks were allowed to start reopening in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

The guidelines for worship facilities released by religious affairs minister Fachrul Razi on Friday change many traditions in mosques. Worshippers usually pray shoulder to shoulder, and they huddle, hug and shake hands once the prayer ends, with cheek-to-cheek kisses common.

Muslims in the Jakarta satellite city of Bekasi were expected to stay at least one meter (yard) apart with no handshaking, and heard shorter sermons. No children were allowed to join the prayers, and police and soldiers ensured health protocols such as social distancing and mask wearing were observed.

Similar scenes were seen in another satellite city of Bogor, and in Makassar, a big city on Sulawesi island.

President Joko Widodo said his administration wants Indonesia to remain productive economically but also safe from the virus.

The government is gradually deploying 340,000 security personnel to enforce health rules as the country prepares to reopen its economy.

Indonesia has recorded more than 25,200 coronavirus cases and more than 1,500 deaths, the highest number of fatalities in Southeast Asia.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region: