Saudi Arabia to reopen mosques in Mecca on Sunday after three-month shutdown

Saudi Arabia has taken restrictive measures against the virus, particularly in Mecca. PHOTO: AFP

RIYADH (AFP, REUTERS) - Saudi Arabia plans to reopen from Sunday (June 21) mosques in Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, after they were closed for three months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, state television reported.

The kingdom has taken restrictive measures against the virus, particularly in Mecca, but the number of new coronavirus cases has notably increased in recent days.

"The mosques in the holy city will begin to reopen their doors to the faithful on Sunday after three months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic," the state-run Al-Ekhbariya channel reported, citing a decision by the Islamic affairs ministry.

Some 1,500 holy sites are preparing to welcome visitors, the channel reported, showing footage of workers disinfecting floors and carpets.

The decision comes weeks before the Haj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

While the Hajj is set to be held in late July, authorities are yet to announce if it will go ahead or be cancelled.

Outside Mecca, mosques elsewhere in the country reopened at the end of May, but with strict rules imposing social distancing and other measures.

The hardest hit Gulf state, Saudi Arabia has reported over 150,000 virus cases, including nearly 1,200 deaths.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Ministry of Health reported 4,301 new cases on Friday (June 19), taking the total to 150,292, with 1,184 deaths. The country hit more than 100,000 cases on June 7.

The number of new infections has continued to rise in recent weeks, as authorities began phasing out restrictions on movement and travel on May 28.

Saudi Arabia is considering drastically limiting numbers at the annual haj pilgrimage to prevent a further outbreak of coronavirus cases, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this month.

Some 2.5 million pilgrims visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long haj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. Saudi Arabia asked Muslims in March to put haj plans on hold and suspended the umrah pilgrimage until further notice.

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