Turkish mosques on Friday reopened for mass prayers more than two months after they had shutdown, as Ankara eased restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
Turkey suspended prayers in March among a range of measures including stay-at-home orders, travel bans and closures of shops and restaurants. However, Ankara has started to ease restrictions after a decline in infection and death rates.
Hundreds of worshippers wearing protective masks performed mass prayers outside Istanbul's historic Blue Mosque for the first time since mosques were shut down in March.
In Fatih mosque, worshippers prayed both inside and outside, with the municipality handing out disinfectants and disposable carpets.
Gulcek Uyanik, 55, expressed his gratitude at being able to resume mass prayers.
"I have waited a lot for this, I have prayed a lot. I can say it's like a new birth, thanks to God, he has brought us back here," he said.
“We were experiencing a troublesome period emotionally and in terms of our faith,” said Emrullah Ezgin, a clothing seller in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. “Thank God, it started today despite the measures, being able to pray makes us happy.”
Alongside the reopening of mosques, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday intercity travel restrictions will be lifted and cafes, restaurants, gyms, museums and beaches will reopen on June 1.
The resumption of communal worship was regulated by strict guidelines to minimize infection risks, limited to certain mosques and outdoor public spaces, the religious affairs directorate (Diyanet) said.
Initially, only Friday, noon and afternoon prayers will be permitted and worshippers must wear face masks, Diyanet said last week. Everyone must bring their own prayer mats or use single-use mats provided at mosques.
Limits were set on the number of worshippers and the ground will be marked to ensure social distancing, it said.
Turkey, a country of 83 million, has so far recorded 4,461 coronavirus-related deaths and nearly 161,000 confirmed cases.