Saudi Arabia will reopen the holy places for the year-round Umrah pilgrimage tomorrow (Sunday). The holy sites will reopen scaled back and with extensive health precautions, seven months after coronavirus prompted its suspension.
Umrah usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year.
It will be revived in three stages. In the initial phase, only 6,000 citizens and residents already within the kingdom will take part each day.
“In the first stage, the Umrah will be performed meticulously and within a specified period of time,” said Haj minister according to AFP.
He said pilgrims will be divided into groups to ensure social distancing within the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Umrah amid COVID-19
Worshippers will on Sunday be able to perform the ritual of circling the sacred Kaaba along socially distanced paths.
On October 18, the number of pilgrims will go up to 15,000 per day. A maximum of 40,000 people can perform prayers at the mosque.
Visitors from abroad will perform Umrah from November 1. The capacity will go up to 20,000 pilgrims, with 60,000 people allowed into the mosque.
The decision to resume the pilgrimage was in response to the “aspirations of Muslims at home and abroad” to perform the ritual and visit the holy sites.
Umrah will return to full capacity once the threat of the pandemic has abated.
Until then, the health ministry will vet countries from which pilgrims will enter based on the health risks.
How to apply for Umrah?
Those wishing to perform Umrah must apply through two mobile applications. One is to register they are free from the virus and another from which they can obtain a permit.
Saudi Arabia suspended Umrah in March. It scaled back the annual Haj over fears that the coronavirus could spread to Islam’s holiest cities.
Haj went ahead in late July, on the smallest scale in modern history, with only up to 10,000 Muslims — a far cry from the 2.5 million who participated last year.
A raft of precautions are in place to ward off any outbreaks during Umrah.
The revered Black Stone in the eastern corner of the holy Kaaba will be out of reach. Meanwhile, the Grand Mosque will be regularly sterilized before each group of worshippers leaves the place.
Each group will be accompanied by a health worker. Medical teams will be on the ground in case of an emergency.
The pilgrimages are a massive logistical challenge, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites, making them vulnerable to contagion.
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