First international pilgrims arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday for Umrah after a seven-month hiatus following the coronavirus outbreak.
An estimated 10,000 international travellers are arriving in Saudi Arabia to begin their Umrah journey in Makkah and visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Benten, his deputy Dr Abdulfattah bin Sulaiman Mashat, Director of KAIA Isam Noor and other officials welcomed the pilgrims at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.
The Saudi government in February suspended entry of international passengers to the kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet's Mosque.
Yasser Ahmed, a 37-year-old guide escorting pilgrims at the airport in Jeddah, told The National that all pilgrims arriving from abroad must first obtain a permit.
“It is great to finally see the happy faces of pilgrims being allowed into the country,” he said.
"They told me they feel truly blessed and lucky and don’t know when they will get a chance to come again."
The maximum age for pilgrims is set at 50. They will be allowed to stay in Saudi Arabia for 10 days but are required to quarantine for three days after their arrival.
After the isolation period, pilgrims will be taken to the Miqat sites where they will change into Ihram and make the intention to perform Umrah.
“Pilgrims will be divided into smaller groups of 20 each to maintain social distancing and ensure all protocols are in place. We want to maintain a safe and comfortable journey for pilgrims,” Mohammed Hani, a 26-year-old a local Saudi health representative in Makkah, said.
There are currently 600 electric wheelchairs and 5,000 wheelchairs available for pilgrims in need, supervised by 120 employees.
Following the easing of a strict lockdown, Saudi Arabia gradually allowed more locals and residents to perform Umrah, and is now opening up to the rest of the world with strict precautionary and preventive measures in place.
The holy mosques have the capacity to take 20,000 Umrah performers, 60,000 worshippers and 19,500 visitors daily.