RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia lifted a mask mandate for indoor spaces on Monday, even as the number of COVID-19 infections steadily climbs above 1,000 new cases per day after hitting a double-digit low just two months ago. had reached.
Under the new rules, masks are still mandatory in Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, where pilgrims gather for worship. Event and festival organizers can continue to demand face masks if they wish. The kingdom also dropped a rule requiring a vaccination certificate on a mobile app that was required to access certain places, events and board aircraft.
Meanwhile, the government in neighboring United Arab Emirates is stressing the importance of wearing masks indoors amid a 100% jump in cases in less than a week. The country of 9 million inhabitants has about 1,300 confirmed new cases every day, despite high vaccination rates.
Anyone breaking the rules for indoor masks in the UAE will be fined 3,000 dirhams or about $815.
For its part, Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry said the decision to end indoor mask mandates in the kingdom comes after the country of about 30 million people successfully rolled out COVID-19 vaccinations across the country. .
For nearly two years, Saudi Arabia has been among the most restrictive in the world in its efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Protocols include banning Saudi nationals from leaving the country, banning travelers from multiple countries from entering Saudi Arabia, requiring vaccination certificates to enter local malls and other indoor areas, and drastically curtailing the annual hajj pilgrimage. The country has since relaxed its rules as it hopes to lure tourists with a new scheme to boost the economy.