Umrah reopens to fully vaccinated foreign pilgrims

Only those inoculated with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson shots will be accepted

Worshippers perform taraweeh prayers during Ramadan around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. AFP

Saudi Arabia has announced it will reopen Umrah to fully vaccinated foreign pilgrims from August 9.

The initial capacity will be 60,000 pilgrims a month, a number which will increase every 30 days to up to two million, the state news agency SPA reported.

An official in the Hajj and Umrah Ministry said pilgrims would have to provide an authorised Covid vaccination certificate in their Umrah request.

Only those who have been inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford or Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines will be accepted. Under-18s are barred from the pilgrimage.

In an additional safety measure, buses will capped at 50 per cent of their capacity to ensure social distancing can be maintained.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted Hajj and Umrah, which generate revenue for the kingdom during normal times, together taking in about $12 billion annually.

The government has accelerated a nationwide vaccination drive in an effort to revive tourism and other pandemic-hit sectors, such as sports competitions and entertainment.

Vaccination is mandatory for anyone seeking to enter government and private establishments, including education institutions and entertainment venues, as well as to use public transport.

The announcement builds on one made last month that gave August 10 as the date for Umrah's reopening to foreigners.

More than 500 Umrah service companies and 6,000 foreign Umrah agents will help pilgrims around the world book packages through 30 websites.

In preparation, more than 4,000 employees have been sterilising the Grand Mosque and its outdoor parks and amenities, SPA reported.

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

Updated: August 9th 2021, 6:19 AM