Saudi Arabia returns to ‘normality’ amid new COVID-19 cases

Saudi Arabia returned to “normality”, lifting its coronavirus-related curfew and reopening mosques in the Muslim holy city of Mecca despite a steady surge in number of new COVID-19 cases.

The night-time curfew, imposed at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, was lifted on Sunday as the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country stood at 157,612, reports Efe news.

This is the last phase of a three-stage reopening plan the Kingdom began implementing on 28 May.

All economic and commercial activities have officially been resumed as of Sunday, while Saudis are once again free to move between the provinces.

In the meantime, 75 per cent of the public employees have returned to their work places.

The spokespersons for the Health and Labour Ministries, however, warned that “the return to normal life does not mean the disappearance of the virus”.

Therefore, “continuous evaluation and special measures will be applied against those who do not comply with the preventive protocols against the virus”.

Over the past few weeks, the Kingdom has witnessed a significant spike in coronavirus cases, with the infection rate reaching as high as 4,000 per day, although recently around 3,000 cases a day has been the norm.

With the third phase, the authorities are aiming at re-establishing the “normal situation” that reigned before the curfew.

The holy city of Mecca, the second worst-hit region, was initially been left out of the reopening plan.

However, around 1,500 mosques in Mecca reopened on Sunday, after being closed for nearly three months amid preventive measures including mandatory use of facemasks.

With the help of volunteers, the authorities have sterilized the mosques and have set up electronic boards giving tips and instructions in more than 10 languages “to prevent the (spread of the) virus and guarantee the safety of the attendees”, according to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

Besides imposing social distancing, worshippers must perform the pre-prayer ablution at home and bring their own prayer mat, according to the new instructions.

Printed copies of the Quran have been removed, while doors and windows of the mosques must remain open and they are to be closed after prayers.

The Friday prayer sermons must now be no longer than 15 minutes.

The authorities have repeatedly confirmed that “the minor pilgrimage and visits remain suspended” in the holy city, while gatherings of more than 50 people will be banned.

Although another 90,000 mosques around the country have reopened since May 31, Mecca’s were allowed only to receive worshippers as of Sunday.

However, it is not clear whether Muslims will be allowed to perform the annual Haj.

The Saudi government has called on Muslims around the world to delay reserves and preparations for the pilgrimage amid the uncertainty, while some countries called on Saudi Arabia to determine whether there will be a Haj this year.