Saudi Arabia to allow limited umrah pilgrimage beginning Oct. 4

After a seven-month suspension, Saudi Arabia will allow Muslim pilgrims to perform umrah in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

al-monitor Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the center of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, while mask-clad and along specific pre-ordained rings as measures due to the coronavirus pandemic, on Aug. 2, 2020, on the final day of the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage. Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images.

Sep 23, 2020

In a bid to revive its coronavirus-battered religious tourism industry, Saudi Arabia will gradually allow its citizens and residents to undertake the year-round umrah pilgrimage beginning Oct. 4.

“In response to the aspirations of many Muslims at home and abroad,” some 6,000 worshippers will be permitted to perform the pilgrimage and enter the Grand Mosque in Mecca each day under the new rules, the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. By Nov. 1, Saudi officials plan to welcome up to 20,000 pilgrims and 60,000 worshippers daily from a list of countries considered safe for travel.

Pilgrims can register their visits on a mobile app developed by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. The Ministry of Interior urged those attending to follow health protocols, including wearing face masks and avoiding physical contact.

In March, the kingdom put umrah pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina on hold as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The Islamic pilgrimage can be performed at any point during the year and attracts some 19 million people to the holy cities annually.

The bigger pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, known as the hajj, was limited to just a few thousand socially distanced citizens and residents this July. The annual journey to Mecca usually draws some 2 million people in what makes up the world’s largest gathering of Muslims. Together with the umrah, the hajj brings in an estimated $12 billion annually.

The coronavirus dealt a major blow to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitions of boosting the country’s religious tourism. The kingdom had set a target of hosting 6 million people for the hajj and 30 million for umrah by 2030.

 After Iran, Saudi Arabia has the second-largest COVID-19 outbreak in the Middle East. The Saudi Ministry of Health reported 552 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the total number to 330,798 and 4,542 deaths.

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