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PILGRIMAGE: Saudi Arabia opens Umrah to vaccinated foreigners

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Saudi Arabia has announced it will start allowing  Umrah pilgrimage requests from vaccinated foreign worshippers starting from August 9.

Announcing on its state-controlled media early Sunday after about 18 months the kingdom has closed its borders to foreign pilgrims due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Saudi Press Agency said authorities in the ministry that coordinates foreign pilgrims will from Monday begin “receiving Umrah requests from various countries of the world”.

The agency says that initially only 60,000 pilgrims will be granted permits per month, and with time the number will gradually be increased to two million per month.

Visiting international pilgrims will have to submit authorized COVID-19 vaccination certificates along with their Umrah request, the Saudi state media said.

It further says that vaccinated pilgrims from countries on Saudi Arabia’s no entry list will be subject to institutional quarantine upon arrival.

Aljazeera reports that the Umrah is a pilgrimage to Islam’s two holiest sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina and can be undertaken at any time of the year. It is distinct from the Hajj, which takes place once annually.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted both pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for the kingdom. Together, they earn about $12bn per year in normal times.

Saudi Arabia stopped the Umrah following the pandemic but reopened it to immunised domestic worshippers in October last year.

The Hajj took place in July this year and last year, though it was only open to a limited number of domestic worshippers.

Altogether, Saudi Arabia has registered nearly 532,000 coronavirus cases and more than 8,300 deaths.

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