RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will allow pilgrims residing inside the country to undertake the Umrah pilgrimage beginning on 4th October after a seven-month gap.
Saudi Arabia suspended Umrah in March and later scaled back the Hajj to prevent the spread of the virus. According to Saudi state media, it will now allow 6,000 citizens and residents inside the kingdom to perform Umrah daily, representing 30 percent of a revised capacity of 20,000 taking into account precautionary health measures.
This will expand to 75 percent of capacity on October 18. Visitors from outside the kingdom will be permitted from November 1, when umrah’s capacity will be raised to 20,000 pilgrims per day until the end of the pandemic.
Official data show Hajj and Umrah earn the kingdom about $12 billion a year. On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia reported 330,798 total cases of coronavirus and 4,542 deaths, as cases in the Gulf region topped 800,000.
The Saudi interior ministry said umrah would be allowed to resume at full “natural capacity” once the threat of the pandemic is eliminated. The decision to resume umrah was in response to the “aspirations of Muslims home and abroad” to perform the ritual and visit the holy sites, the ministry added.
The decision comes after the kingdom organised the smallest Hajj in modern history in late July, with only up to 10,000 Muslims allowed to take part in total as compared to the 2.5 million who participated last year.
Health authorities said no coronavirus cases were reported at the holy sites during Hajj as pilgrims circled the sacred Kaaba along socially distant paths. The pilgrims were also subjected to regular temperature checks and required to go into mandatory quarantine after the ritual.
King Salman said holding the hajj in the shadow of the pandemic required “double efforts” by Saudi authorities. Last week, Saudi Arabia partially lifted its suspension on international flights, six months after travel curbs were imposed due to the pandemic.