End of physical distancing in Mecca for vaccinated worshipers

Vaccinated worshipers were able to pray side by side on Sunday in the Grand Mosque of Mecca for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, after the authorities in Saudi Arabia lifted social distancing.

This mosque in Mecca (west), the first holy place of Islam, hosted millions of Muslims before the disease spread at the end of 2019. Several restrictions limiting access to this site were then imposed before being gradually relaxed these last months in particular to the vaccinated pilgrims.

“The Grand Mosque can (now) be used to its full capacity, with the obligation for employees and visitors to wear a mask at all times,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement released by the agency. SPA official press.

The decision applies from Sunday for the benefit of people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, he said.

Public places, such as transport, restaurants or cinemas, will also be able to operate at full capacity throughout the country and wearing a mask is no longer mandatory outdoors, according to the press release.

The signs on the ground marking the distance to be respected have been removed in and around the Great Mosque, built around the Kaaba. This black cubic structure towards which Muslims around the world go to pray during the hajj, the great annual pilgrimage, remains however inaccessible.

On Twitter, SPA posted images of worshipers praying side by side. Since the start of the pandemic, the videos and photos of a handful of Muslims praying far from each other in Mecca had been around the world, so contrasted with the usual crowds that gather at the site during pilgrimages.

In normal times, the hajj and Umrah (small pilgrimage), bring in some 12 billion dollars (10.2 billion euros) per year to Saudi Arabia, which is trying to diversify its economy ultra-dependent on oil.

Saudi Arabia has officially registered nearly 548,000 cases of infection including 8,760 deaths.

The government accelerated the vaccination campaign in early August, with the aim of reviving tourism, hosting sporting events and shows and easing restrictions.

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