GCC News Roundup: Saudi Arabia issues guidelines for hajj, Gulf countries adjust coronavirus restrictions (July 1-31)

LA MECA, SAUDI ARABIA- The annual pilgrimage to the Hajj ceremony began this Wednesday (29) in the Saudi town of Mecca marked by the limitations imposed by the new coronavirus pandemic, which modified the massive rituals of other years, in the that millions of Muslims participated in Makkah Al-Mukarramah and the Holy Places (Mecca), Saudi Arabia on July 29, 2020.

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Saudi Arabia issues guidelines for hajj

The state news agency of Saudi Arabia said on July 6 that the kingdom had announced health protocols to preventthe spread of the new coronavirus in the 2020 hajj season, banning gatherings and meetings between pilgrims.

Saudi Arabia had also issued guidelines for about 1,000 pilgrims who performed the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca this pastmonth, an experience that was unlike any before because of the pandemic.

The guidelines stipulated that the pilgrims could only drink holy water from the Zamzam well in Mecca that ispackaged in plastic bottles, and pebbles for casting away evil that are usually picked up by pilgrims along hajj routeswould be sterilized and bagged ahead of time. Pilgrims were also obliged to bring their own prayer rugs.

Gulf countries adjust coronavirus restrictions

United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities said on July 1 residents and citizens would not yet be allowed to travel abroadfor tourism and leisure purposes and that such activity would need a permit. This came after initial claims that international travel could resume from June 23.

Qatar on July 22 relaxed restrictions aimed at controlling the virus, allowing citizens and permanent residency holders to travel outside the country and return at any time, and residents outside the country to return starting August 1.

Kuwait’s center for government communication announced on Twitter on July 25 that the country would end the strict lockdown imposed in Farwaniya governorate from 5 a.m. (0200 GMT) the following day.

State television in Oman reported on July 14 that the country would start allowing its citizens to travel abroad, but theywould have to apply with authorities to do so and quarantine upon their return. State news agency ONA said on July21 that Oman would ban travel between all its governorates from July 25 to August 8, a period that included a Muslimholiday.

UAE restructures government in response to pandemic, increases testing

The UAE on July 5 announced a broad government restructuring for more “agile and swift” decision-making following the pandemic, which merged government entities and appointed new economy and industry ministers.

In an attempt to quell the virus’ spread, a government spokesperson said on July 7 that the country plans to test two million people, or about 20 percent of the population, over the next two months after the infection rate had climbed again following the lifting of restrictions.

UAE launches spacecraft to Mars

 An Emirati spacecraft rocketed into blue skies from a Japanese launch center July 20 at the start of a seven-month journey to Mars on the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.

The liftoff of the Mars orbiter named Amal, or Hope, started a rush to fly to Earth’s neighbor that had been scheduled to be followed by China and the United States in the days after.

Leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait in stable condition after health scares

Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah of Kuwait underwent a “successful” surgery on July 19 that required the oil-richnation’s crown prince to be temporarily empowered to serve in his place, its state-run news agency reported. Astatement issued after a cabinet meeting on July 27 said that the emir, who had arrived in the United States a week earlier to complete his medical treatment, was in a stable condition.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman was admitted to a hospital in the capital, Riyadh, for medical tests due to inflammation of the gallbladder, the kingdom’s Royal Court said July 20. King Salman held a cabinet meeting via video call from the hospital the next day and three Saudi sources told Reuters that he was in stable condition.

Qatar buys stake in vaccine firm, Sinopharm begins vaccine trials in UAE

German biotech company CureVac said on July 21 that Qatar Investment Authority has taken an undisclosed stake in the firm as part of a $126 million financing round, the latest high-profile investor to come onboard ahead of a potential stock market listing.

Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm has begun Phase III clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine in Abu Dhabi using up to 15,000 volunteers, the government in the capital of the UAE said on July 16.

UN court sides with Qatar in blockade row

The United Nation’s highest court for disputes between countries sided with Qatar on July 14 in its legal fight with several Gulf states that imposed an air blockade against Doha.

The International Court of Justice’s 16-judge panel ruled that appeals filed by Qatar’s neighbors against several decisions of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) should be dismissed. The court also confirmed that it was the ICAO that has jurisdiction in the airspace row.