People wearing protective face masks and gloves shop at a supermarket, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri/File Photo
Shops in Saudi Arabia may now stay open during prayer times, a leading government-linked newspaper said on Friday, relaxing the kingdom's strict rules on closing shops and businesses for prayer five times a day.
It is the latest in a series of social and economic reforms intended to modernise the conservative kingdom and boost the private sector's contribution to its oil-dependent economy.
The decision, taken by the Council of Saudi Chambers, will end decades where all shops had to shut for at least half an hour during daily Muslim prayers. These are held at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and evening.
"To prevent crowding, gatherings, long waiting under preventive measures to fight coronavirus and to maintain the health of shoppers, we urge shop owners and businesses to remain open through all working hours, including prayer times," Okaz cited a circular by the official business federation.
The Saudi government's media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, has pledged to revive a more "moderate Islam". He has loosened ultra-rigorous social restrictions by scaling back the role of religious morality police, permitting public concerts, lifting a ban on cinema and allowing women to drive.
Reporting by Marwa Rashad Editing by Mark Heinrich
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