Saudi Arabia boosts pandemic measures at Mecca's Grand Mosque

AFP , Thursday 30 Dec 2021

Saudi Arabia on Thursday reimposed social distancing measures at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, after recording the highest number of infections in months.

Muslim worshippers circumambulate the Kaaba
File Photo: Muslim worshippers circumambulate the Kaaba, at the Grand Mosque, during the minor pilgrimage, known as Umrah in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in May, 25, 2019. AP

Workers have returned floor markings removed on October 17 to 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.

Saudi authorities said they will reimpose "social distancing requirements between worshippers and pilgrims" at the Grand Mosque, without specifying whether a capacity has been set.

Earlier, the kingdom had said social distancing and masks were again required in both indoor and outdoor venues.

The kingdom of approximately 34 million people has so far recorded more than 554,000 coronavirus cases, including 8,874 deaths, the highest number of fatalities among the Gulf Arab countries.

On Wednesday, Saudi recorded 744 cases, the highest number since mid-August.

The Covid-19 pandemic hugely disrupted Muslim pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for the kingdom, bringing in some $12 billion annually.

The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar -- have been recording their highest numbers of new cases in months.

Despite having the world's highest vaccination rate, the UAE has recorded the largest number of infections among Gulf countries at more than 757,000.

On Wednesday, it recorded 2,234 infections, the highest number since June.

The Emirates' Abu Dhabi crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, sought to reassure the people that "the UAE health sector is fully geared and prepared to address any challenges", according to the official WAM news agency.

The UAE is gearing up to host New Year's Eve celebrations, including at Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, in the emirate of Dubai.

Dubai, which is heavily dependent on tourism, was one of the world's first destinations to welcome back visitors July 2020.

It is also counting on the six-month Expo 2020 trade fair to boost its economy.

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