Prayers resume at Mecca Grand Mosque after 7-month pause
Residents were seen participating in early dawn prayers on a televised broadcast on Saudi TV, weeks after Umrah restrictions were relieved.
Images that surfaced from official accounts showed worshippers performing fajr prayers at the Grand Mosque.
Earlier this month, a very small, limited number of people donning the white terrycloth garment symbolic of the Muslim pilgrimage circled Islam's holiest site in Mecca after Saudi Arabia lifted coronavirus restrictions that had been in place for months.
The kingdom had taken the rare step of suspending the smaller "umrah" pilgrimage that draws millions year-round from across the world in early March as the coronavirus morphed into a global pandemic and prompted countries to impose lockdowns and curfews to slow down transmission.
But as nations began to ease those restrictions, the Saudi government started allowing a maximum of 6,000 pilgrims a day to enter the sprawling Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Only Saudi citizens and residents were permitted to enter the mosque during this first phase of reopening, and each person had up to three hours to complete the pilgrimage.
The Grand Mosque, which is being sterilised and cleaned multiple times a day, houses the cube-shaped Kaaba that observant Muslims pray toward five times a day.
Before visitors can enter the mosque to pray or perform the umrah, they have to apply and reserve a specific time and date through an online application to avoid crowding and maintain social distancing.
Sunday's move to allow visitors into the mosque marks the second stage of lifting of restrictions, which authorities earlier this month confirmed would see a maximum of 15,000 pilgrims and 40,000 enter the mosque for prayer based on allocated times via the app.
Muslim travellers from outside Saudi Arabia could be allowed to perform the umrah pilgrimage as early as Nov. 1, the interior ministry said.
Saudi Arabia recently began easing some restrictions on international flights for the first time since March.
Despite taking early and sweeping measures to contain the virus, Saudi Arabia has recorded nearly 341,854 cases, including 5,165 deaths.