Saudi Arabia has said it will start allowing pilgrims to perform Umrah in gradual stages from October 4, while still taking the necessary precautions against the spread of coronavirus.
The Ministry of Interior said the decision was made after assessing the development of the pandemic and in response to the desire of Muslims around the world to perform the ritual.
The first phase of the gradual return will include allowing citizens and expatriates from within the Kingdom to perform Umrah at a capacity of 30 percent from October 4. This will be the equivalent of 6,000 pilgrims per day.
The second phase will increase the capacity of the Grand Mosque to 75 percent, which will include 15,000 pilgrims and 40,000 worshippers a day from October 18.
In the third phase, pilgrims from abroad will be allowed to perform Umrah as of November 1 with a full capacity of 20,000 pilgrims and 60,000 worshippers per day.
The fourth stage will see the Grand Mosque return to normal when all the COVID-19 risks have gone away. No date has been set for this eventuality.
The entry of pilgrims, worshippers and visitors will be regulated through a mobile application called “I’tamarna.” The app will be launched by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, with the aim of enforcing health standards and making it easier for pilgrims to book their journeys.
The Ministry of Interior called on all people attending the holy sites to adhere to preventive measures, wear face masks, maintain a safe distances from others and refrain from physical contact.
The ministry said Saudi Arabia wants to “empower pilgrims, both from inside and outside the Kingdom, to be able to perform “the ritual in a safe and healthy manner,” while protecting them from the threats of the pandemic.”
Earlier this year, Riyadh banned foreign pilgrims from performing the Hajj due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only around 10,000 domestic pilgrims were permitted to perform the Hajj under strict health measures and protocols to prevent coronavirus from spreading.
Saudi Arabia has had more than 330,000 coronavirus cases, including more than 312,500 recoveries and about 4,500 deaths.
But it has seen a drop of almost 88 per cent in cases this month compared with June, the Health Ministry said.