Saudi Arabia: Hajj attendees must have Covid-19 vaccine

The kingdom plans to vaccinate 70 per cent of the country by the end of 2021

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Saudi Arabia is making vaccinations mandatory for all those working and volunteering at Hajj later this year, Arabic daily Okaz quoted the kingdom's health minister as saying on Tuesday.

In an internal memo seen by Okaz, Tawfiq Al Rabiah said vaccination would be required for all taking part and directed staff to form a coronavirus vaccination committee before the Hajj season in July.

Authorities must “secure the manpower required to operate the health facilities in Makkah, Madinah and entry points for pilgrims”, he reportedly said.

A health ministry official told The National that the internal memo from the Health Ministry addressed the need for all medical personnel and volunteers who want to work during Hajj this year to be vaccinated. The spokesman said no specific decision has yet been made about pilgrims.

Saudi Arabia plans to vaccinate 70 per cent of its population by the end of 2021.

There is no word as yet how many will be allowed to attend Hajj in 2021 after last year's gathering was drastically scaled back to just 1,000 pilgrims who were already in the kingdom. They were able to take part in a socially distanced Hajj and no Covid-19 cases were recorded as a result.

Authorities temporarily suspended Umrah in March last year due to the pandemic, but later started it again with strict Covid-19 protocols.

So far, not a single case has been reported among 5 million worshippers who have performed Umrah since October last year. Pilgrims register though the government app and receive time slots to ensure there is no overcrowding at sites.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday said that 885,000 people had received the coronavirus vaccine so far.

The kingdom has established more than 259 vaccination centres, but urged pregnant women and children as well as people with allergies and chest diseases not to take the vaccine.

Saudi nationals and residents continue to receive free doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines through registrations on the Ministry's Sehhaty app.

The kingdom recorded 302 new coronavirus cases and five deaths on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia has reported 378,002 coronavirus cases in total, with 368,926 recoveries to date.