Saudi Arabia opens Umrah pilgrimage to vaccinated foreigners

Saudi Arabia will begin receiving Umrah pilgrimage requests from abroad for vaccinated worshippers starting August 9.

Socially distanced pilgrims perform their Umrah in the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, July 17, 2021 [Saudi Ministry of Media/Handout via Reuters]

Saudi Arabia says it will begin receiving Umrah pilgrimage requests from vaccinated foreign worshippers starting on August 9.

The announcement on state media early on Sunday came about 18 months after the kingdom closed its borders to foreign pilgrims due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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 authorised 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 immunised 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 sport competitions and entertainment extravaganzas.

Vaccination is mandatory for anyone seeking to enter government and private establishments, including educational institutions and entertainment venues, as well as to use public transport.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies