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MAKKAH: The Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, has returned to operating at full capacity, with worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.
First morning Fajar prayers without social distancing from Masjid Al Haram (Mecca Grand Mosque) after Saudi Arabia returns to full capacity starting 17 October 2021. pic.twitter.com/BnGFUq9QDl
— حسن سجواني 🇦🇪 Hassan Sajwani (@HSajwanization) October 17, 2021
The authorities on Sunday removed floor markings that guide people to social distance in and around the Grand Mosque that is built around the Kaaba towards which Muslims around the world pray.
“This is in line with the decision to ease precautionary measures and to allow pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque at full capacity,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Pictures and footage on Sunday morning showed people praying side by side in straight rows of worshippers, the formation revered in Muslim prayers, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last year.
While social distancing measures were lifted, authorities said visitors must be fully vaccinated against coronavirus and must continue to wear masks on mosque grounds. The Kaaba, however, remained cordoned off and out of reach.
According to the interior ministry, Saudi Arabia will ease COVID-19 curbs from October 17 in response to a sharp drop in daily infections and a considerable advancement of vaccination numbers.
The authorities also lifted curbs on fully vaccinated people at closed venues, gatherings, transportation, restaurants and cinemas. Masks are no longer mandatory in open public places while still imposed at closed venues, it added. Furthermore, fully-inoculated sports fans will from Sunday be allowed to attend events at all stadiums and other sports facilities, reported SPA.
Saudi Arabia announced in August it will begin accepting vaccinated foreigners wanting to make the umrah pilgrimage. The umrah can be undertaken at any time and usually draws millions from around the globe.
In July, only around 60,000 inoculated residents were allowed to take part in a vastly scaled-down form of the annual hajj. The COVID-19 pandemic hugely disrupted both Muslim pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for the kingdom that rake in a combined $12 billion annually.