Pilgrims perform prayer without social distancing at the Grand Mosque in Holy City of Makkah on Sunday. Reuters
Worshippers in the Grand Mosque in the Holy City of Makkah performed the first prayer without social distancing since the beginning and spread of the coronavirus about a year and a half ago, with the birth of the Kingdom, which relaxed measures relating to the fight against the epidemic.
Video footage released by official media showed the process of removing distance stickers from inside hallways, courtyards and structures of the mosque, in front of the faithful lined up side by side to perform the dawn prayer, shoulder to shoulder.
Saudi Arabia closed the Grand Mosque in March 2020, then reopened it to pilgrims with strict measures in July 2021.
On Sunday, the Grand Mosque that houses the Holy Kaaba, returned to receive worshipers at its full capacity and without any social distancing, although the mask is still mandatory.
Also, touching the Kaaba in the middle of the mosque’s courtyard, is still prohibited.
Millions of Muslims flock to the Grand Mosque throughout the year to pray and perform Umrah, which was suspended for months last year.
Saudi Arabia hosted two exceptional Hajj seasons as the number was limited to a few thousand in 2020, and then they've grown to tens of thousands this year, but only for people who are immune to the virus.
Between September 2019 and March 2020, it issued 400,000 of them — only for the pandemic to crush that momentum as borders were closed.
The Kingdom reopened its doors in early 2021, and since Aug.1 it has been welcoming foreign tourists who have been vaccinated.
And it decided to ease the measures to combat the virus with a decrease in the daily infection rate, starting from Sunday, including the non-mandatory wearing of the muzzle in public places and the return of sports stadiums to welcome supporters immune to the virus at full capacity.
Saudi Arabia also announced that fully-inoculated sports fans will from Sunday be allowed to attend events at all stadiums and other sports facilities, reported SPA.
Saudi Arabia has registered over 547,000 coronavirus cases and 8,760 deaths.
The religious rites will begin on Sunday. Only 60,000 fully vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents from more than 558,000 applicants have been chosen for the downsized pilgrimage.
As per precautionary measures, 500 groups of international pilgrims are dispersed throughout the day, each with 20 pilgrims. The maximum age limit for international pilgrims is set at 50.
The announcement comes amid uncertainty over the Hajj which is due to take place at the end of July, after authorities this week urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency cited Saleh Bin Taher Banten's remarks in stories early on Wednesday, saying that Muslims should "be patient” in making their plans for the Hajj. The pilgrimage was expected to begin in late July this year.
Hassan's audio speech broadcast on state television — his first address to the nation since the Taliban seized power in August — came ahead of next week's meeting between the United States and the Taliban in Doha.
Emergency medical services workers initially checked him out before being sent to a hospital for evaluation, the agency said. His condition was not released.
On November 23, researchers discovered a new "abnormally multiple mutations. Some of the mutations are already known and affect transmissibility and immune evasion, but many more are new.
An official source from the Saudi Interior Ministry said: “It has been decided to allow direct entry of travellers from all countries, for all those who have received a dose of the from 4/12/2021, provided that institutional quarantine procedures are applied to them for three days.”