Saudi Arabia is all set to accept vaccinated foreigners wishing to make the Umrah pilgrimage. This will boost an economy hit hard by the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
Umrah is a pilgrimage to Islam’s two holiest sites that people can undertake at any time of the year.
Mecca and Medina will begin welcoming visitors to their mosques while maintaining Covid-19 precautionary measures, with a capacity that would rise from 60,000 pilgrims per month to two million pilgrims. According to an official in the Hajj and Umrah Ministry, domestic and overseas pilgrims, along with their Umrah request, will be required to furnish authorized Covid-19 vaccination certificates.
Vaccinated pilgrims from countries with entry bans imposed by Saudi Arabia will have to undergo institutional quarantine upon arrival. Foreign pilgrims are required to be immunised with a Saudi-recognised vaccine — Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Umrah had been reopened for inoculated domestic worshippers in October last year. Before the recent announcement, only vaccinated pilgrims residing in Saudi Arabia were given Umrah permits.
Deputy hajj minister Abdulfattah bin Sulaiman Mashat is now working to determine the destinations from which pilgrims can come, and also their numbers on a “periodic basis according to the classification of preventive measures” in those countries.
For Saudi rulers, hosting the pilgrimages is a matter of prestige, as having custody of Islam’s holiest sites is a powerful source of political legitimacy for them. Billions have been spent by Riyadh in building a tourism industry from scratch.
The hajj is one of the largest religious gatherings across the world.
For the very first time in 2019, the kingdom, which was once inclusive, started to issue tourist visas in order to revamp its global image, which was subsequently expected to draw visitors. It issued as many as four lakh tourist visas between September 2019 and March 2020. The momentum, however, got disturbed by the closure of borders.
In a bid to revive tourism and other sectors hit severely by the pandemic, like sports competitions and entertainment extravaganzas, a nationwide vaccination drive has been accelerated in the country. Anyone seeking to enter government and private establishments like educational institutions and entertainment venues have to be mandatorily vaccinated. The same is applicable when someone uses public transport.
Saudi Arabia has registered at least 5,32,000 Covid-19 cases and over 8,300 deaths.