Mecca reopens for limited ‘umrah’ pilgrimage

Saudi Arabian authorities have sanctioned the partial resumption of the year-round umrah pilgrimage with extensive health precautions adopted after a seven-month coronavirus hiatus.

According to Saudi Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten, the pilgrimage will be revived in three phases, noting that 6,000 pilgrims per day will be allowed in the first stage to perform the umrah “meticulously and within a specified period of time”.

The revered Black Stone in the eastern corner of the Kaaba — which it is customary but not mandatory to touch during the pilgrimage — will be out of reach, and the Grand Mosque is to be sterilized before and after each group of worshippers.

Each group of 20 or 25 pilgrims are to be accompanied by a health worker and medical teams will be on the ground in case of an emergency, Benten said.

“In an atmosphere of faith and with assured hearts… the first batch of pilgrims begin the pilgrimage in accordance with the precautionary measures laid out,” the hajj ministry said on Twitter.

Under the second stage from October 18, the number of umrah pilgrims will be increased to 15,000 per day.

Visitors from abroad will be permitted in the third stage from November 1, when capacity will be raised to 20,000.

A maximum of 40,000 people, including other worshippers, will be allowed to perform prayers at the mosque in the second stage and 60,000 in the third, according to the interior ministry.

Recall that Saudi Arabia suspended the umrah in March and scaled back the annual hajj pilgrimage over fears the coronavirus could spread to Islam’s holiest cities and back to pilgrims’ home countries.

Saudi Arabia has had more than 335,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 4,850 deaths.

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