Lesser Hajj begins in Saudi Arabia
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has begun allowing pilgrims from outside the kingdom to perform Umrah starting from 1 November, as a part of its third phase of reopening.
The kingdom initially imposed a blanket ban on the Umrah pilgrimages to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Residents were allowed to perform Umrah last month at 30 percent capacity or 6, 000 pilgrims a day due to concerns over the spread of the virus.
Despite banning Umrah, Riyadh maintained the annual Hajj pilgrimage but only allowed around 1,000 pilgrims residing in the kingdom to perform it.
According to the Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah. Amr Al maddah, pilgrims must isolate for three days after arrival before being transported to religious site, and they will be allowed a 10-day stay in the kingdom.
He said the testing of pilgrims who are over 50 years old or younger would be continuous and any cases detected would be closely monitored.
Worshipers are no longer allowed to touch Kabba stone structure draped in black cloth embroidered in gold with verses from Quran.
While Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage, taken at a specific time of the year, to all Muslims that are physically and financially able to make the journey, Umrah can be undertaken at any time of the year and is not considered compulsory.
The kingdom, which hosts the two holiest sites of Islam, welcomes millions of Muslim visitors throughout the year with a peak for the Hajj pilgrimage.
Nearly seven million people visit Mecca annually to perform Umrah. Prior to visiting Saudi Arabia, pilgrims are required to provide certificates for vaccinations in their visa applications.