Only vaccinated pilgrims allowed to enter Mecca, Saudi officials say

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The rules, announced today at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, currently apply to the Umrah pilgrimage - a non-compulsory pilgrimage that takes place year round.  Pictured: Muslims pray around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca


Muslims making a pilgrimage to the Grand Mosque in Mecca must be vaccinated against Covid, Saudi officials insisted today.

Strict social distancing measures and disinfection routines will also be implemented inside the world-famous sacred site in western Saudi Arabia, where millions of Muslims flock every year for pilgrimages to the country. Umrah and Hajj.

The rules, announced today at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, currently apply to the Umrah pilgrimage – a non-compulsory pilgrimage that takes place year round.

It is not clear whether the hajj, a pilgrimage that every Muslim must make at least once in their lifetime, and which can only be done at a specific time of year, will also be affected by the new restrictions.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, the body responsible for managing the two pilgrimages, said in a statement that three categories of people would be considered “immune”.

These include people who received two doses of the vaccine, those who received a single dose at least 14 days before, and people who have recovered from the infection.

Strict social distancing measures and disinfection routines will also be implemented inside the famous holy site in western Saudi Arabia, where millions of Muslims go on Umrah pilgrimages every year. and Hajj. Pictured: Cleaners disinfect around the Kaaba – the cubic building of the Grand Mosque

The rules, announced today at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, currently apply to the Umrah pilgrimage - a non-compulsory pilgrimage that takes place year round.  Pictured: Muslims pray around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca

The rules, announced today at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, currently apply to the Umrah pilgrimage – a non-compulsory pilgrimage that takes place year round. Pictured: Muslims pray around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca

Mecca: the holiest city in Islam

Mecca is a city in western Saudi Arabia, known as the holiest city in the Islamic faith.

The city is the birthplace of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. There is also a site outside of town where Muslims believe Muhammad was first shown in the Quran – the holy book of the Islamic faith.

The city, located about 40 miles east of Jeddah and the Red Sea, is home to around 2 million people.

But every year millions of Muslims come to Mecca to pray – and at its peak, that nearly triples Mecca’s population.

Muslims generally visit Mecca as part of two pilgrimages, Umrah and Hajj.

Umrah, which all Muslims are advised but not compelled to continue, takes place year round – although most often in the last weeks of Ramadan.

The hajj is a longer and compulsory pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims must make at least once in their lifetime.

Part of the pilgrimage is to the Masjid al-Haram – also known as the Great Mosque of Mecca – the largest mosque in the world and which is valued at $ 100 billion.

At the center of the mosque is the Kaaba – a cube-shaped structure believed to have been built by angels or by Adam.

Muslims walk around the Kaaba during the pilgrimage and it is the focal point of prayer in the mosque.

Only those people will be able to obtain permits to practice Umrah, as well as to attend prayers in the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, officials said.

Saudi Arabia has reported more than 393,000 coronavirus infections and 6,700 deaths from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, and has reportedly administered more than five million bites to its population of 35 million.

Officials say the new policy would “effectively increase the operational capacity” of the Grand Mosque during Ramadan – the end of which is often the rush hour for Umrah pilgrimages.

The condition also applies for entry into the Prophet’s Mosque in the holy city of Medina and begins with Ramadan. However, it is not known how long the restrictions will last.

It was also not clear whether the policy, which comes amid a spike in coronavirus infections in the kingdom, would be extended to the annual hajj pilgrimage later this year.

The announcement comes after King Salman replaced the hajj minister last month, less than a year after the kingdom hosted the smallest hajj in modern history due to the pandemic.

Mohammad Benten was removed from his post and replaced by Essam bin Saeed, according to a royal decree issued by the Saudi Official News Agency (SPA).

At the end of July last year, the kingdom hosted at least once in its life a pilgrimage to the hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must-see for able-bodied Muslims.

Only up to 10,000 Muslim residents of Saudi Arabia itself were allowed to participate. This is compared to the usual 2.5 million Muslims around the world who participated in 2019.

It is not known how many pilgrims will be allowed for the hajj this year. According to the pro-government newspaper Okaz, only vaccinated pilgrims will likely be allowed this year.

In a relaxation of coronavirus boundaries last October, Saudi Arabia opened the Grand Mosque for prayer for the first time in seven months and partially resumed the Umrah pilgrimage.

Officials say new policy would 'increase the operational capacity' of the Grand Mosque during Ramadan - which often ends in rush hour for Umrah pilgrimages

Officials say the new policy would 'effectively increase the operational capacity' of the Grand Mosque during Ramadan - whose end is often the rush hour for Umrah pilgrimages

Officials say the new policy would “effectively increase the operational capacity” of the Grand Mosque during Ramadan – the end of which is often the rush hour for Umrah pilgrimages

The umra, the pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time, generally attracts millions of Muslims from all over the world each year.

Authorities said Umrah would be allowed to return to full capacity once the threat of the pandemic subsides.

Saudi Arabia’s custody of Mecca and Medina – Islam’s two holiest sites – is seen as its most powerful source of the monarchy’s political legitimacy.

The holy places are also a vital source of income for the kingdom, whose economy has been hit hard by the pandemic.

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