The decree, published in the government diary, adds "religious activities of any kind" to the list of exempted services, alongside supermarkets and pharmacies.

It adds that such activities must be carried out "in accordance with health ministry guidelines."

Bolsonaro, who was elected in 2018 with the backing of Brazil's burgeoning evangelical Christian community, has clashed with local authorities who have closed schools and businesses in places such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in a bid to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

The president, who has called the reaction to the pandemic "overblown," says such measures are unnecessary and will wreck Latin America's biggest economy.

Most places of worship in Brazil have already suspended services because of the outbreak, often broadcasting them online instead.

However, some prominent religious leaders have refused.

Last week, the influential evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia, a Bolsonaro ally, called confinement measures "a tactic by Satan."

"My friends, do not worry about coronavirus. It is just another tactic by Satan. Satan works with fear," he said.

Malafaia changed course Friday and suspended his churches' services. But he insisted that was because of official restrictions on public transportation, and said the doors would remain open for worshippers.

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