CAIRO, EGYPT - Egypt is reopening churches for the first time in nearly four months, after a major decline in the number of recorded coronavirus cases in recent days. The number of new cases is also down in Sudan, while Libya, Tunisia and Algeria have been witnessing an increase.
Worshippers gathered for the first church service in nearly four months in Egypt's historic port city of Alexandria. Authorities reopened churches across the country on Monday.
Those attending appeared to abide by strict safety rules regarding social distancing and the use of face masks.
Mosques are open on weekdays but remain closed for Friday prayers and major holidays.
Egypt's Health Ministry indicated Sunday that there were just 167 new cases during the previous 24 hours and only 31 deaths. Figures for new cases have fallen dramatically in recent days, prompting the government to relax a number of restrictions.
Neighboring Sudan has also witnessed a relative drop in the number of cases in recent days with under 100 new cases per day for most of the past week.
Nearby Libya, however, is witnessing a rise in the number of new infections, according to Arab media.
Libyan news channel 218TV reported that the Islamist militia-dominated port city of Misrata has been placed under curfew by authorities after six people died of COVID-19 over the weekend. Arab media reports say that mercenaries from outside Libya have been entering the country through Misrata. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Paul Sullivan, who is a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, told VOA that he thinks the recent increase in the number of cases in Libya "is likely due in part to the movement of mercenaries into the country."
He added that in periods of conflict, “social distancing takes a back seat, particularly if you are a mercenary who is not part of the community."
Meanwhile, Algeria, with a population of about 44 million people, has seen a rise in the number of cases to more than 600 a day in recent days, double the number of infections from just a month ago. The European Union suspended travel from Algeria to the EU last week due to the increase.
Said Sadek, well-known Egyptian political sociologist who is now in Tunisia, told VOA that he thinks there has been a rise in the number of coronavirus infections in Tunisia and other parts of north Africa, "because many people began relaxing their behavior after the number of cases dropped." He added, "Many family members visit from France and other parts of Europe, bringing the virus back with them."
Saudi TV reported that there were "no reported cases of COVID-19" among those who participated in this year's annual hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage. Saudi Information Minister Majed al Qasseri noted that "the extensive spread of the coronavirus and its clear danger to humanity forced Saudi Arabia to seriously limit the number of people attending this year's pilgrimage."