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Sunday May 31 2020

COVID-19: With masks and no ablution, Saudis return to mosques for prayers

Muslim devotees observe safe distancing rules during noon prayer at a mosque in Riyadh on May 31 ,2020. Photo: AFP

After a hiatus of two months when congregational prayers were halted under a coronavirus-triggered lockdown, mask-clad worshipers flocked to Saudi mosques that reopened nationwide on Sunday — except in the holy city of Makkah.

Complying with stringent social distancing rules, worshipers kept a minimum of two metres apart.

They had been instructed to bring their own prayer mats and to perform the cleansing ritual, or ablution, at home, instead of in mosque grounds.

"Worshippers rushed to the home of God to perform their obligatory duty (prayers) after the reopening of mosques," the ministry of Islamic affairs said on Twitter.

The ministry posted a video showing a mosque with many worshippers wearing face masks and reaching out for a large bottle of hand sanitiser after prayers.

Authorities have instructed mosques to avoid crowding and the distribution of food, drinks, incense and miswak twigs used to clean teeth, according to the ministry.

But some complained that worshippers were not strictly complying with the rules.

"I prayed, praise be to God, in the neighbourhood mosque... and it was a beautiful feeling," said one Twitter user.

"But I swear to God that some people do not care about anything. No face mask. No rug."

Easing curbs

Saudi Arabia had shut down mosques nationwide for more than two months to limit the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Gulf, is emerging from a full nationwide curfew imposed during Eid-ul-Fitr.

Also read: Masjid-e-Nabawi, Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque reopen to public after COVID-19 closure

Domestic air traffic also resumed on Sunday, with state media saying around 100 flights were scheduled.

The interior ministry intends to ease restrictions in a phased manner, with the curfew lifted nationwide — except in Makkah — between 6am and 8pm (0300 GMT and 1700 GMT) until June 20.

The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21, Makkah aside.

In Makkah, a virus hotspot, the curfew will be lifted between 6am and 3pm until June 20, and thereafter the curfew will be shortened by a further five hours.

Saudi Arabia has reported more than 85,000 coronavirus infections and 503 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, it suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in the holy cities of Makkah and Madina.

That suspension will remain in place until further notice, the interior ministry said.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's Haj — scheduled for late July — but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful traveled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in Haj.

Makkah's Grand Mosque has been almost devoid of worshippers since March, with an eerie emptiness surrounding the sacred Kaaba,

But mosque employees and security personnel have been allowed to attend prayers.