Saudi Arabia re-opens Holy Kaaba after coronavirus sterilisation

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Saudi Arabia re-opened the Mataf (area for circumambulation around the Holy Kaaba) for non-Umrah performers on Saturday, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

According to the SPA, the General President of the Grand Mosque and Prophet’s Mosque Affairs Sheikh Dr Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al Sudais said the decision came following a royal order by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

He added that there was a “plan drawn up for this purpose.” This decision to open the Mataf area follows a major cleaning and sterilisation operation inside and outside the Grand Mosque.

Dr al Sudais also stressed the need to adhere to precautionary procedures and cooperate with Grand Mosque workers to maintain public safety.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia had emptied Islam’s holiest site for sterilisation over fears of the new coronavirus, an unprecedented move after the kingdom suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage.

The move was a “temporary preventive measure” but the upper floors of the Grand Mosque were still open for prayers, a Saudi official told AFP.

On Wednesday, the Kingdom halted the Umrah pilgrimage for its own citizens and residents.

The move came after authorities last week suspended visas for the Umrah and barred citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council from entering Makkah and Medina.

The decision to suspend the Umrah comes ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan starting in late April, which is a favoured period for pilgrimage. It is unclear how the coronavirus will affect Hajj, due to start in late July.

Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world in 2019 to take part in the Hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam as Muslim obligations are known.

The event is a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites, making attendees vulnerable to contagion.

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