Saudi Arabia opens Umrah to vaccinated worshipers from abroad: SPA

Published August 8, 2021
Worshippers, keeping a safe social distance, pray as they perform Umrah at the Grand Mosque after Saudi authorities eased Covid-19 restrictions, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on November 1, 2020. — SPA via Reuters
Worshippers, keeping a safe social distance, pray as they perform Umrah at the Grand Mosque after Saudi authorities eased Covid-19 restrictions, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on November 1, 2020. — SPA via Reuters

Saudi Arabia will gradually begin receiving Umrah pilgrimage requests from abroad for vaccinated pilgrims starting August 9 after about a year and a half of not receiving overseas worshippers due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the state news agency, SPA, reported early on Sunday.

With a capacity that would rise to 2 million pilgrims from 60,000 pilgrims per month, Mecca and Medina will start welcoming visitors from abroad to their mosques while maintaining Covid-19 precautionary measures.

An official in the Hajj and Umrah Ministry said domestic and overseas pilgrims will have to include authorised Covid-19 vaccination certificates along with their Umrah request.

Vaccinated pilgrims from countries that Saudi Arabia includes on its entry-ban list will have to be institutionally quarantined upon arrival, the report added.

The Kingdom also decided to allow entry to foreign travellers fully vaccinated with either Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines, provided that they also receive a booster shot of either of the four vaccines approved by the Kingdom, according to the country's e-visa portal.

"Guests who have completed two doses of the Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines will be accepted if they have received an additional dose of one of the four vaccines approved in the Kingdom," one of the guidelines for travellers on the portal says. The four approved vaccines are Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Umrah, a pilgrimage to Islam's two holiest sites that is undertaken at any time of the year, was reopened in October for domestic worshippers.

Islam's holiest sites' home for the second year in a row had hosted a limited-numbered, domestic Haj pilgrimage in July.

Open to tourists

Earlier this month, the Kingdom opened its doors for tourists after a 17-month hiatus.

At the time, the SPA had reported that travellers, fully vaccinated with Saudi-approved jabs will be able to enter the kingdom “without the need for an institutional quarantine period”, provided they also have proof of a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test taken within the last 72 hours and register their details with health authorities.

Riyadh has spent billions trying to build a tourism industry from scratch, as part of efforts to diversify its oil-reliant economy.

The once-reclusive kingdom began issuing tourist visas for the first time in 2019, part of an ambitious push to revamp its global image and draw visitors.

Between September 2019 and March 2020, it issued 400,000 — only for the pandemic to crush that momentum as borders were closed.

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