By Gavin Gibbon
Resumption of flights in the kingdom to be carried out in stages over the next three weeks
Domestic flights in Saudi Arabia are set to resume from Sunday, according to the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).
The Saudi aviation regulator revealed that the resumption of flights will be done in stages and will cover all local destinations within two weeks, according to a report by the Saudi Press Agency.
The first phase will involve:
The kingdom suspended domestic flights on March 21 in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, with the exception of humanitarian and emergency cases, medical evacuation aircrafts and private aviation.
This was in addition to repatriation flights for those wishing to return to their home country during the pandemic.
Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Gulf (76,726 cases), said on Tuesday that it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the evening curfew relaxed between 6am and 3pm between Thursday and Saturday.
The kingdom, home to Islam's holiest sites, in March suspended the year-round ‘umrah’ pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in the holy cities of Makkah and Medina.
That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.
Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj - scheduled for late July - but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.
Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime.
Makkah's Grand Mosque has been almost devoid of worshippers since March, with an eerie emptiness surrounding the sacred Kaaba - the large cube-shaped structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.
But on Sunday, the first day of Eid, prayers went ahead and an imam stood on a podium while Saudi security forces, some wearing masks, positioned themselves between rows of worshippers - their prayer mats placed in well-spaced arcs.