End of physical distancing in Mecca for vaccinated worshipers, a first since the health crisis

After a year and a half of drastic health protocol due to the health crisis, Mecca is back to normal. The vaccinated faithful were able to pray side by side, Sunday, October 17, in the Great Mosque of Mecca. A first since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, after the lifting of social distancing by the authorities in Saudi Arabia.

This Mecca mosque, the first holy place of Islam, hosted millions of Muslims before the spread of SARS-CoV-2, at the end of 2019. Several restrictions limiting access to this site were then imposed before being gradually relaxed in recent months, especially for vaccinated pilgrims.

A member of the Saudi Arabian police checks the details of the pilgrims' vaccination on their smartphone, at the Grand Mosque, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on October 17, 2021.

“The Great Mosque can now be used at full capacity, with the obligation for employees and visitors to wear a mask at all times”, announced the Ministry of the Interior in a statement released by the official SPA press agency. The decision applies from Sunday for the benefit of people fully vaccinated against Covid-19, 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.

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The great pilgrimage remains inaccessible

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 to which Muslims around the world go to pray during the hajj, the great annual pilgrimage, remains inaccessible, however.

A photo released by the Saudi presidency shows officials removing signs of social distancing at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on October 17, 2021.

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

Saudi Arabia has officially recorded 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.

The World with AFP

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