Mon, 06 Jul 2020

Saudi Arabia will allow mosques to open for Friday prayers, state TV has reported, as the kingdom eases restrictions on movement to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Mosques will be authorised to open 20 minutes before Friday prayers and should close 20 minutes after they finish, state TV said, citing the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

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Saudi authorities said on Monday restrictions would be lifted in three phases, culminating in a curfew ending - with the exception of the holy city of Mecca - from June 21.

Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Mecca from May 31, the interior ministry said in a series of measures announced on state media.

The first phase, starting on Thursday, will see the 24-hour curfew reduced to 15-hour long - 15:00 to 06:00 - countrywide.

Free movement between regions and some retail and wholesale activities, including malls, will be allowed to resume.

Saudi Arabia had imposed 24-hour curfews on most towns and cities but eased them for the start of the fasting month of Ramadan. The 24-hour curfew was reimposed during the five-day Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, which began on Sunday.

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From Sunday May 30, free movement will be allowed between 06:00 and 20:00, the Saudi Press Agency reported. Domestic flights will be allowed to resume, but a ban on international flights will stay.

Public and private sector employees will be allowed to return to their offices. Social gatherings of more than 50 people will still be banned, including weddings and funerals.

Citizens will still be urged to wear masks in public and continue hygiene and social distancing measures after June 21.

Mecca will stay one phase behind the rest of the country, with curfew times adjusted to 3pm-6am until June 20, revised up to 20:00 thereafter.

The Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, which attract millions of travellers from around the world, will remain suspended until further notice.

Last year, some 2.5 million people travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the Hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Gulf, has so far recorded 74 795 cases of Covid-19 with 399 deaths. More than 2 000 cases are still being reported daily.

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