MANILA, Philippines — Philippine health officials have banned all religious gatherings in Catholic churches and mosques in Lanao del Sur province in Mindanao due to COVID-19 delta variant fears.

A Health Department report confirming several delta cases prompted the autonomous Muslim region to close down places of worship, reported

“The dreaded (delta) variant is here in the province. To avoid the spread of this deadly variant to our fellow Filipinos — Muslims and Christians — we have decided to suspend all religious gatherings in all churches and mosques,” a provincial health official told reporters Sept. 6.

“Mass public religious gatherings such as enthronements, weddings, dialaga (Muslim engagement), kandori (prayer gatherings) … and nonessential work gatherings are prohibited,” a statement on the Lanao provincial government website said. reported provincial health officials also said the province’s hospitals had reached maximum capacity because of a COVID-19 surge.

Local officials said the majority of the Muslim population in the region believe the COVID-19 vaccines are not halal or permissible under Islamic law.

Zia Adiong, deputy speaker of the Bangsamoro regional assembly, said the belief is misguided, and he was encouraging all Muslims to be vaccinated.

“All current available COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and will reduce the risk of severe illness. This is … permissible to Islamic believers and therefore halal,” he said.

On Sept. 6, the Philippines recorded its highest number of new cases with 22,415 infections. So far there have been 2.1 million infections and more than 34,000 deaths since the pandemic began.