Starting from Monday, Saudi Arabia will begin receiving requests to perform Umrah — an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca — from foreign worshippers, the government announced.
For concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic, only the vaccinated and the recovered will be provided with permissions, Xinhua news agency quoted the Ministry of Haj and Umrah as saying in the announcement.
The Deputy Minister of Haj and Umrah, Abdulfattah bin Sulaiman Mashat said the authorities determine the countries from which Umrah performers come, and their numbers on a periodic basis according to the classification of preventive measures.
He called upon the performers to adhere to organizational plans and health procedures set by the Ministry.
The announcement by state media early on Sunday came about 18 months after the kingdom closed its borders to foreign pilgrims due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On November 1, 2020, Saudi Arabia received foreign pilgrims under tight precautionary measures to perform Umrah for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic early last year.
The Saudi Press Agency said authorities in the ministry that coordinates foreign pilgrims will from Monday begin “receiving Umrah requests from various countries of the world”.
Permits will initially be granted to 60,000 Umrah pilgrims per month, but that number will gradually be increased to two million per month, the report said.
Overseas pilgrims will have to include authorized Covid-19 vaccination certificates along with their Umrah request, it said.
Vaccinated pilgrims from countries on Saudi Arabia’s no entry list will be subject to institutional quarantine upon arrival, it added.
The Umrah is a pilgrimage to Islam’s two holiest sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina and can be undertaken at any time of the year. It is distinct from the Hajj, which takes place once annually.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted both pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for the kingdom. Together, they earn about $12bn per year in normal times.
Saudi Arabia stopped the Umrah following the pandemic but reopened it to immunized domestic worshippers in October last year. The Hajj took place in July this year and last year, though it was only open to a limited number of domestic worshippers.
Altogether, Saudi Arabia has registered nearly 532,000 coronavirus cases and more than 8,300 deaths. Its government has accelerated a nationwide vaccination drive as it moves to revive tourism and other pandemic-hit sectors, such as sports competitions and entertainment extravaganzas.