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Bangladesh extended its nationwide lockdown last week, only permitting people to leave their homes to buy groceries and medical supplies, and banning gatherings of more than five people.
But on Saturday, more than 100,000 people defied those orders to attend funeral prayers for Maulana Jubayer Ahmad Ansari, a senior leader of the Islamist party.
In the district of Brahmanbaria, about 50 miles east of capital Dhaka, Police were unable to control the crowds and local media reported that very few of those attending the funeral were wearing masks.
The government has now removed two of the most senior policemen in the district from duty and implemented a strict lockdown of seven villages in the area for the next two weeks.
“We've strictly ordered all residents of the seven villages to stay at home at all times at least for the next 14 days so we can identify if anyone contracted the virus following Saturday's gathering,” a police spokesperson told Reuters.
A “three-member probe committee” has been established to investigate how the mass funeral took place during the lockdown. The incident comes just days before the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, during which most people attend prayer services at mosques.
Bangladesh has 2,948 confirmed coronavirus cases and 101 deaths, but critics say the government’s inability to test properly means that the real infection rate is likely much higher. The mass gathering on Saturday has raised fears of a widespread outbreak in the country, which has a population of 160 million people and poor health care infrastructure.
The funeral was not the only violation of the lockdown over the weekend: garment workers also took to the streets of the port city of Chittagong to demand back pay.
Globally, religious groups and gatherings have been linked to several localized outbreaks.
In South Korea, members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a fringe Christian group, are accused of infecting one another in the southern city of Daegu in February, and then fanning out around the country. The group was subsequently accused of failing to hand over the names of those who had been infected, making it difficult for authorities to trace them.
In India, a Sunni Muslim community group called Tablighi Jamaat held a gathering for 1,400 members from around the world in New Delhi in March. Several members of that group were later found to have unwittingly spread the coronavirus it across the country — a situation that has led to widespread anti-Muslim hate speech online.
In the U.S. meanwhile, at least eight states designated Christian church groups as exempt from stay-at-home orders ahead of Easter celebrations earlier this month, despite the escalating death toll in the country. "Satan and a virus will not stop us," megachurch pastor Tony Spell, of the Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana, told Reuters. “We are not afraid. We are called by God to stand against the Antichrist creeping into America’s borders. We will spread the Gospel.”
Cover: In this Saturday, April 18, 2020 photo, thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims gather to attend the funeral of a popular Islamic preacher defying a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the new coronavirus at the central district of Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh. Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, is struggling to enforce ban on large gatherings. (AP Photo/Masuk Hridoy)