RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Monday lifted a mask mandate for indoor spaces even as COVID-19 infection numbers steadily climb past 1,000 new cases a day after reaching double-digit lows just two months ago.
Masks will still be required at Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, where pilgrims gather for worship, according to the new rules. Organizers of events and festivals can continue to require masks if they wish. The kingdom additionally dropped a rule requiring proof of vaccination on a mobile app that was required before entry to certain places, events and to board planes.
Meanwhile, in neighboring United Arab Emirates, the government is stressing the importance of wearing masks indoors amid a 100% jump in cases in less than a week. The country of 9 million residents has around 1,300 confirmed new cases daily, despite high rates of vaccination.
Anyone found breaching indoor mask rules in the UAE will be fined 3,000 dirhams, or roughly $815.
For its part, the Interior Ministry of Saudi Arabia said the decision to end indoor mask mandates in the kingdom comes after the country of some 30 million people successfully rolled out COVID-19 vaccinations nationwide.
For nearly two years, Saudi Arabia was among the world’s most restrictive in its efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Protocols included banning Saudi nationals from leaving the country, barring travelers from multiple countries from entry into Saudi Arabia, requiring proof of vaccination to enter local malls and other indoor spaces and dramatically curtailing the annual hajj pilgrimage. The country has since relaxed its rules as it hopes to woo tourists under a new scheme to boost the economy.