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About 90,000 mosques reopened on Sunday for the first time in more than two months, but worshippers have been ordered to follow strict guidelines and Islam’s holiest site in Mecca remains closed to the public.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs said millions of text messages were sent to people in multiple languages to inform them about the new rules for public prayer, which include keeping two metres apart, wearing face masks at all times and abstaining from greeting one another with handshakes or hugs.
Children under 15 are not allowed inside mosques, while the elderly and those with chronic conditions are being told to pray at home.
The continued closure of Mecca points to the increasing likelihood that the kingdom may suspend this year’s annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage, which falls in late July.
Saudi Arabia took early and unprecedented measures to curb the spread of the virus, but has recorded more than 83,000 cases and 480 deaths.
Covid-19 restrictions are easing in most of the country but authorities say they will be watching carefully to ensure efforts to contain the pandemic remain on track.
Deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said the lifting of restrictions is a balancing act between the socio-economic benefit from their removal and the public health risk.
He said: “We’re taking a deliberately safe and cautious approach. Most importantly we’re taking the time to gather the data over the coming weeks to determine whether it’s safe to move to the next round of lifting restrictions.”
Coronavirus cases remain low in Australia by international standards, with 7,180 infections and 103 deaths.
Officials have said they will not limit incoming tourists to those from a list of 29 approved nations, but travellers from other countries will be subject to mandatory testing on arrival and a period of quarantine depending on the results.
The policy will only be applied during the final two weeks of June, although Greek authorities left open the prospect of additional restrictions after that date.
The approved-nation list features: Albania, Australia, Austria, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Estonia, Japan, Israel, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lebanon, New Zealand, Lithuania, Malta, Montenegro, Norway, South Korea, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Finland.
Arrivals from those countries will be tested randomly.