Saudi Arabia said Saturday it was lifting most Covid restrictions including social distancing in public spaces and quarantine for vaccinated arrivals, moves that could facilitate the arrival of Muslim pilgrims.
The decision includes suspending “social distancing measures in all open and closed places” including mosques, the official Saudi Press Agency cited an interior ministry source as saying.
Masks will only be required in closed spaces, according to the decision, which came into effect on Saturday.
The Saudi kingdom, which is home to Islam’s two holiest places in Mecca and Medina, will no longer require vaccinated travellers to provide a negative PCR or rapid test before their arrival in the kingdom or to quarantine, SPA said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hugely disrupted Muslim pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for the kingdom, bringing in some US$12 billion annually.
Hosting the pilgrimages is a matter of prestige for Saudi rulers, for whom the custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites is their most powerful source of political legitimacy.
In 2021, the coronavirus outbreak forced Saudi authorities to dramatically downsize the haj for a second year, and just 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom took part.
Since the start of the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has registered more than 746,000 coronavirus cases, 9,000 of them fatal, in a population of some 34 million.