Saudi Arabia: Wearing masks at Islam’s holiest sites recommended

Saudi Arabia: Wearing masks at Islam’s holiest sites recommended By A Robin - January 03, 2024
Holy Kaaba

Holy Kaaba

Saudi authorities have urged worshippers at Islam’s two holiest places to wear facemasks as a preventive measure, days after the kingdom reported detecting a new variant of COVID-19.

“Putting the mask at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque and their courtyards marks prevention and protection from catching diseases,” the Saudi General Directorate of Public Security said in a social media post, addressing the faithful in both sites.

More than a week ago, Saudi health authorities said they had locally detected the JN.1 variant of COVID-19, but said it was no cause for worry.

The kingdom’s Public Health Authority said it had monitored the local spread of the variant, JN.1, accounting for 36 per cent of the cases in the country.

“This has not been accompanied by any increase in admissions into intensive care units,” the government agency, known as Weqya, said on its X account.

10 million expected

Saudi Arabia has gradually lifted pandemic-related restrictions, reopening different businesses and activities in the country. Earlier this year, around 1.8 million Muslims attended annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia for the first time in three years after the pandemic-induced restrictions were lifted.

Millions of Muslims from inside and outside Saudi Arabia yearly flock to the Grand Mosque, Islam’s most sacred site, in Mecca to perform Umrah or minor pilgrimage and offer prayers.

After Umrah, many pilgrims would head to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

Saudi Arabia expects around 10 million Muslims from abroad during the current Umrah season amid facilities for overseas pilgrims.

Earlier this month, he World Health Organisation (WHO) designated JN.1 as a “variant of interest” amid sharp rise in world spread.

Based on the available data, the additional global public health risk posed by JN.1 is “currently evaluated as low”, according to the UN agency. “Despite this, with the onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, JN.1 could increase the burden of respiratory infections in many countries,” WHO added.

The agency noted that current vaccines continue to protect against severe disease and death from JN.1 and other circulating variants.

JN.1 is a descendant of Omicron and its symptoms seem to be similar to other variants including having a sore throat followed by congestion, according to specialists.

By A Robin - January 03, 2024

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