Twelve coronavirus cases linked to Malaysian Islamic conference

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s health ministry called on Thursday for mass gatherings to be postponed after at least 12 coronavirus cases were linked to a three-day religious event in the capital attended by some 10,000 people from several countries.

Authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has reported 149 infections of the virus, are tracking about 5,000 citizens who took part in the Feb. 28-March 1 gathering of Islamic missionaries at a mosque in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

“All mass gatherings should be postponed to minimise the spread of COVID-19,” the health ministry said on Twitter, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Eleven of the cases linked to the meeting have cropped up in people in Brunei who attended the meeting - Brunei’s first cases of the coronavirus. Some 90 people from Brunei attended.

Brunei’s first case was a 53-year-old man who returned from Kuala Lumpur on March 3 and started showing symptoms four days later, its health ministry said.

The twelfth case linked to the Kuala Lumpur meeting is a Malaysian, a health official said.

Singapore said it was investigating and identifying its citizens who attended the Malaysian meeting.

In a bid to stop the spread of the virus, Malaysia’s religious affairs minister has issued guidelines for holding Friday prayers at mosques, including shortening sermons and for the wudhu, or ablution rites, to be carried out at home if possible.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur, Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore and Ain Bandial in Bandar Seri Begawan; Editing by Robert Birsel