Local councils and a mosque group are calling for daily congregational and Friday prayers to be suspended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The joint statement tonight (March 19) from the Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM) comes after many mosques in the region were looking to host Jummah (Friday prayers) tomorrow.

Hundreds and sometimes thousands of worshippers attend their local mosques every Friday. In the North West a handful of mosques have suspended prayers completely whilst others have taken the step of urging anyone (of any age) who has symptoms (constant cough or temperature) not come to mosque at all.

They are also encouraging worshippers to pray at home and stopped the use of the wudu (ablution) area. Worshippers were also told not to shake hands after prayers.

Friday prayers times have been limited by some mosques. Early evening mosque classes for children have already been suspended at the majority of mosques in the region.

This new statement released tonight calls for mosques not to hold ANY congregational prayers including the weekly Jummah.

The letter has been signed by Moulana Rafiq Sufi Chair of Lancashire Council of Mosques; Professor Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health Blackburn with Darwen Council; Dr Sakthi Karunaninthi, Director of Public Health, Lancashire County Council; Dr Arif Rajpura – Director of Public Health, Blackpool Council and Terry Woods, Deputy Chief Constable of Lancashire Constabulary and Chair of Lancashire Local Resilience Forum.

It reads, "We want to inform you that we are working together in partnership, and with other public sector and voluntary organisations, to mitigate the risks and taking action to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our communities.

"Community leadership is a key role and we all will need to play our part in our local communities, it is therefore imperative we all work together. We all understand that the Mosques are a great source of support and solace to the community, and we wanted to take this opportunity to write to you jointly regarding the daily congregational and the Jummah (Friday) prayers and the impact of the current coronavirus outbreak.

"We recognise how important Friday prayers are to the community, particularly at this difficult time for us all. However, our shared priority must be to keep people safe and give them the best possible advice on how to do this.

"Even before this decision was made, mosques have been implementing a number of mitigating actions to manage the risks and protect the whole congregation and especially the most vulnerable (people with underlying health problems irrespective of age). Regrettably, some individuals have not been adhering to mitigation practices.

"Earlier this week, the Government issued advice on social distancing.

"This advice urges everyone to avoid large gatherings and also gatherings in smaller public places. It also recommends avoiding gatherings with friends and family. This advice is needed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and also to make sure our hospitals have the capacity they need to cope with the pandemic.

"It is with a very heavy heart that we strongly recommend, from a Public Health perspective, at this stage of the pandemic outbreak, that both daily and Friday congregational prayers and other significant gatherings such as madrassah, courses or lectures are suspended until further notice.

It adds, "This does not mean that the mosque doors are shut. In arriving to this recommendation, we have considered all the relevant issues and precautions that could be mitigating factors.

"The underlying concern regarding social proximity within 2 metres is key in helping to stop the spread of Covid 19, and it cannot be mitigated without breaking other requirements of congregational prayer, such as forming lines behind the Imam, the entry points and exit into the Mosques.

"Taking all these factors into consideration, we feel there is no other option than to offer our strong recommendation to suspend congregational prayers and activities for the foreseeable future."

"We understand that this will be challenging for many people within the community, but the situation we find ourselves and across the country is unprecedented. We want to give you the best advice possible to keep you and all your congregational community, brothers and sisters safe."