Saudi Arabia resumes work on Grand Mosque in Mecca amid coronavirus closure

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Saudi Arabia is continuing work on the expansion of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, one of Islam’s holiest sites, after granting licenses to the agency responsible, reported Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Wednesday.

The Grand Mosque of Mecca, known as al-Masjid al-Haram in Arabic, surrounds the Kaaba in Mecca and is the site of the Hajj pilgrimage that all Muslims should complete once in their lifetime. It is the largest mosque in the world and has been expanded twice, between 1955-1973 and again between 1982-1988.

Saudi Arabia announced a third expansion of the mosque in 2008, allocating 40 billion riyals ($10.6 billion) for the project.

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According to SPA, the area of the third expansion includes the Masaa expansion, which has already been opened, and a range of flyovers, stairs, tunnels, security buildings, stations, bridges, power infrastructure and a hospital.

On Wednesday, SPA announced that the Agency for Projects and Engineering at the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque has issued licenses for the remaining works for the third expansion.

The works include work on the main gates, the installation of artificial stone ceilings, and the completion of architectural arches overlooking the courtyard.

The announcement comes as restrictions aimed at slowing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have limited access to the mosque for pilgrims. Authorities had closed the Islamic holy sites to the public as the virus spread to the region.

Watch: Ramadan under lockdown: Mecca's Grand Mosque devoid of worshippers

Authorities closed the areas covered by the third expansion on March 25 to help contain the spread of the virus, following a range of measures aimed at sterilizing the mosque and making it safe for pilgrims in the future.

Earlier this month, General Presidency of the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque launched self-sterilization gates at the entrance of the Grand Mosque.