The Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia operated at full capacity on Sunday, with worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.
This comes after Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry approved easing the country’s strict COVID-19 precautionary measures, which includes operating Mecca’s Grand Mosque at full capacity, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
The Kingdom will also allow gatherings and will lift some mask mandates for those who have received both COVID-19 vaccine doses, the interior ministry announced.
Masks in open spaces will no longer be mandatory for fully vaccinated people, although members of the public must still wear them in closed spaces and areas that are not monitored by the Tawakkalna tracing app, the ministry added in a statement carried by SPA.
Social distancing regulations will also be dropped, and public places, transport, restaurants, cinemas, and other gatherings monitored by Tawakkalna will be allowed to operate at full capacity once again for people who have received both vaccine doses.
Social distancing stickers removed in Mecca
Workers removed floor markings that guide people to social distance in and around the Grand Mosque, which is built around the Kaaba, the black cubic structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.
Pictures and footage on Sunday morning showed people praying side by side, making straight rows of worshippers that are formations revered in performing Muslim prayers, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last year.
While social distancing measures were lifted, the authorities said visitors must be fully vaccinated against coronavirus and must continue to wear masks on mosque grounds.
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, as does the annual Hajj, which abled-bodied Muslims who have the means must perform at least once in their lifetime.
In July, only around 60,000 inoculated residents were allowed to take part in a vastly scaled down form of the annual Hajj.