Saudi Arabia is set to accept vaccinated foreigners coming for the Umrah pilgrimage – authorities announced on Sunday.
The move is intended to boost the economy hit by the Covid pandemic.
The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported that the Kingdom would begin receiving Umrah requests from various countries from Monday. The move comes nearly 18 months after it closed its borders to battle coronavirus.
It merits a mention that the Umrah can be undertaken at any time, unlike the annual Hajj.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hugely disrupted both the pilgrimages, which are vital revenue earners for the kingdom usually and rake in a combined $12 billion annually.
Before Sunday’s announcement, only vaccinated pilgrims residing in Saudi Arabia were eligible for Umrah permits.
Furthermore, the SPA announced that about 2 million requests would be accepted per month.
Dr Abdulfattah bin Sulaiman Mashat, Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah, said his ministry “worked in coordination with other concerned authorities before the start of the Umrah season 2021/2022, to develop mechanisms and create a safe and convenient environment for the Umrah performers throughout their journey to achieve safety, security, and human health.”
It added that a total of 60,000 umrah performers are to be divided into eight operating periods and will increase to 2 million per month.
Furthermore, applications will be made through a unified system of services and preventive measures.
Mashat said his ministry is working “to determine the countries from which Umrah performers can potentially come, and their numbers periodically according to the classification of preventive measures and the requirements for the nations.
Umrah is an optional pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims can perform at any time of the year. In February 2020, it was suspended because of fears of the coronavirus outbreak.
Umrah was limited to Saudis and foreign residents of the kingdom.