Saudi Arabia reopens 90,000 mosques, Mecca still shut
Riyadh, June 1 (IANS) Saudi Arabia has reopened 90,000 mosques, except for the Mecca as part of the second phase of lifting the coronavirus restrictions in the country, an official said.
For the first time since late March, worshippers were allowed to perform the congregational prayers in the 90,000 mosques across the Kingdom on Sunday, Efe news quoted the state-run SPA news agency as saying.
Mecca, home of the Haram Mosque and the Kaaba, has been excluded from the plan to lift the coronavirus restrictions.
Devoted Muslims returning to the mosques, however, had to respect rules aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, including a two-metre distancing and the closure of bathrooms, where people perform the pre-prayer ablutions.
The precautionary measures also included worshippers having to wear face masks and bring their own mats, according to the SPA.
Also on Sunday, Saudi railways resumed trips as part of the second of a three-phase reopening plan.
Passengers seats have been relocated to a diagonal position, among other precautionary measures that included temperature checks, according to the source.
The government unveiled its lockdown easing strategy last week.
It came following a 96-hour curfew imposed during Eid al-Fit following a surge in infections during the month of fasting.
Besides ending the round-the-clock curfew, which came into force on May 28, included the resumption of inter-provincial travel by private vehicles.
All restrictions will be lifted June 21, but wearing a mask in public will be mandatory.
It remains unclear when and how this process of normalization will be extended to Mecca and whether the annual pilgrimage (Haj) to the holy city by Muslims from around the world will take place this year.
The Saudi government has offered no additional guidance regarding the 2020 Hajjsince early March, when Riyadh advised Muslims abroad to delay making reservations for the journey to Mecca.
Saudi Arabia imposed some of the toughest measures in the region to contain the coronavirus, including closing its airspace and quarantining entire provinces.
Those measures, however, had an impact on the country's economy, leading the government to reduce subsidies and public investment while boosting the value added tax by 200 per cent.
Saudi Arabia has reported 1,877 fresh coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the confirmed infections to 85,261 while the death toll stood at 503.