Thanks to mass vaccinations, a low number of Covid-19 cases, and relaxed social distancing and travel laws, Saudi Arabia is set to welcome people from abroad to perform Hajj in July.
Two years ago, at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muslims outside the kingdom were barred from performing Hajj as the country shut its borders in accordance with national health and safety measures.
On Monday, however, Saudi Arabia announced that people will no longer be required to wear face masks as authorities dropped a series of measures designed to stop the spread of Covid-19. However, pilgrims will still have to wear masks when visiting the Two Holy Mosques.
Pilgrims travelling from overseas are expected to constitute 85 per cent of the total number of people attending Hajj this year.
Unlike the past two years, when there was a ban on open buffets and local caterers, pilgrims will be able to eat together but are barred from bringing foodstuff of any kind from their countries.
During the past two years, each pilgrim was served three meals during the day, in accordance with safety and health protocols.
“Pilgrims have been asked to avoid unnecessary social gatherings and travel,” a Hajj organiser told The National. “Pilgrims will be provided with bedsheets, umbrellas, any other basic necessities once they arrive. They have to maintain social distancing, good hygiene and follow local health guidelines.”
Passengers will only be allowed to carry two suitcases, both weighing a maximum 20kgs.
Last week, Saudi Arabia opened online registrations for pilgrims from America, Europe and Australia for this year's Hajj.
Pilgrims can now register directly at motawif.com.sa, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The Saudi authorities have set out health requirements that Hajj pilgrims from outside the kingdom have to meet before arriving in the country.
The General Authority of Civil Aviation said Hajj passengers must be under 65, fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and submit a negative result from a PCR test taken within 72 hours of their departure flight. The first batch of Hajj pilgrims from Turkey arrived in Makkah on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia said it will permit up to one million pilgrims from abroad this year and has expanded capacity after two years of limiting the Hajj to domestic pilgrims only.
More than 390,000 applicants from inside Saudi Arabia applied for Hajj this year.
Hesham Saeed, the Hajj ministry’s spokesperson, said names will be sent by text on Wednesday, as candidates will be selected via an e-lottery.
Like last year, priority will be given to those who have not performed Hajj before.
People will be given 48 hours to complete the registration and payment process before the Hajj permit is issued.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced it would offer three packages for the Hajj season this year. The Al Abraj package will cost about 14,738 Saudi riyals, the Developed Camps package will cost 13,044 Saudi riyals, while the Normal Camps package will be 10,239 Saudi riyals.
The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, must be undertaken by all Muslims who have the physical capacity and financial means, at least once in their lives.
Saudi authorities began restricting access to Makkah from last week in preparation for Hajj, which will run from July 7, depending on the sighting of the new moon of Dhul Hijjah.