Saudi Arabia will reopen the Muslim holy places (Mecca and Medina) for the year-round Umrah pilgrimage on Sunday, seven months after coronavirus prompted its suspension.
The umrah, the pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time, usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year.
The pilgrimage will be revived in three stages, with the initial phase seeing just 6,000 citizens and residents already within the kingdom allowed to take part each day.
“In the first stage, the umrah will be performed meticulously and within a specified period of time,” Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten told state television last week.
The holy sites will be opened with extensive health precautions. Pilgrims will be divided into groups to ensure social distancing within the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Worshippers will on Sunday be able to perform the ritual of circling the sacred Kaaba – a cubic structure inside the Grand Mosque towards which Muslims around the world pray – along socially distanced paths.
On October 18, the number of pilgrims will be increased to 15,000 per day, with a maximum of 40,000 people allowed to perform prayers at the mosque.
Visitors from abroad will be permitted from November 1, when capacity will be raised 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 home and abroad” to perform the ritual and visit the holy sites, the interior ministry said last month.
It added that the umrah would be allowed to return to full capacity once the threat of the pandemic has abated.
Until then, the health ministry will vet countries from which pilgrims are allowed to enter based on the health risks.