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Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia reopens 90,000 mosques as lockdown eased

The Gulf kingdom has so far reported 83,384 cases of coronavirus and 480 deaths
An aerial view of the Grand Mosque and Kaaba in the centre of Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca, 24 May (AFP)

Saudi Arabia reopened more than 90,000 mosques on Sunday for dawn prayers, after more than two months of closure as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance has completed cleaning, and sterilising mosques in all the Kingdom's regions, in line with the leadership's efforts in caring for mosques and preparing them in an organised and sterile way to prevent the spread of any infection," the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said. 

Measures enforced by the ministry include the mandatory social distance of two metres, wearing face masks, and limiting the opening of mosques to 15 minutes before the start of prayer and 10 minutes after its end. 

The elderly, children under 15 and people with chronic diseases are not permitted. People must perform the ablution rite, the act of washing the face, arms and legs before prayer, at home.

Meanwhile, the holy mosque in Medina was opened with strict hygiene measures and with only 40 percent of its capacity made available for dawn prayers, according to the Twitter account of the Directorate of the Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina. 

Translation: After approval, the Prophet's Mosque agency opens its doors in preparation for receiving worshippers for the Fajr (dawn) prayer.

The kingdom, home to more than 30 million people, has so far reported 83,384 cases of coronavirus and 480 deaths, the highest figures among the seven Gulf Arab states.

"It is great to feel the mercy of God and once again call people for prayers at mosques instead of at their homes," Abdulmajeed al-Mohaisen, who issues the call to prayer at Al Rajhi Mosque in the capital Riyadh, told Reuters.

Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia to end curfew on 21 June, except in Mecca
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Earlier this month, authorities said they would begin easing restrictions over three phases, culminating in the curfew completely ending, with the exception of the holy city of Mecca, from 21 June.

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

The first phase started on Thursday, with the 24-hour curfew reduced to between 3pm and 6am countrywide.

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 24 May.