By John Ikani
The Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, has returned to operating at full capacity, with worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.
While social distancing measures were lifted, authorities said visitors must be fully vaccinated against coronavirus and must continue to wear masks on mosque grounds.
Also, 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.
However, the Kaaba, towards which Muslims around the world pray, remained cordoned off and out of reach.
“This is in line with the decision to ease precautionary measures and to allow pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque at full capacity,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Pictures and footage on Sunday morning showed people praying side by side in straight rows of worshippers, the formation revered in Muslim prayers, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last year.
The authorities also lifted curbs on fully vaccinated people at closed venues, gatherings, transportation, restaurants and cinemas.
Masks are no longer mandatory in open public places while still imposed at closed venues, it added.
Furthermore, fully-inoculated sports fans will from Sunday be allowed to attend events at all stadiums and other sports facilities, reported SPA.