MAKKAH: After a gap of over a year, the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah operated at full capacity on Sunday, with worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Workers removed floor markings that guide people to social distance in and around the Grand Mosque, which is built around the Kaaba.
“This is in line with the decision to ease precautionary measures and to allow pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque at full capacity,” reported the official Saudi Press Agency.
While social distancing measures were lifted, the authorities said the visitors must be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 and continue to wear masks on the mosque grounds. Also, the Kaaba remained cordoned off and out of reach.
Saudi Arabia announced in August that it will begin accepting the vaccinated foreigners wanting to make the Umrah pilgrimage.
The Umrah can be undertaken at any time and usually draws millions from around the globe, as does the Haj.
In July, around 60,000 inoculated residents were allowed to take part in a vastly scaled down form of the Haj. The COVID-19 pandemic hugely disrupted both pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for the kingdom that rake in a combined $12 billion annually.
Hosting the pilgrimages is a matter of prestige for the Saudi rulers. The once-reclusive kingdom began issuing tourist visas permitting the foreign visitors to undertake more than just the pilgrimages for the first time in 2019. Between September 2019 and March 2020, it issued 400,000 of them — only for the pandemic to crush that momentum as the borders were closed. But the kingdom is slowly opening up, and has started welcoming the vaccinated foreign tourists since August 1.
Saudi Arabia also announced that fully-inoculated sports fans will from Sunday be allowed to attend the events at all stadiums and other sports facilities, reported the SPA. It also said that masks in most open spaces are no longer mandatory. Saudi Arabia has registered over 547,000 coronavirus cases and 8,760 deaths.