The most sacred site in Mecca, Masjid al-Haram, reopened its gates for Muslims in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah after 7 months of coronavirus limitations.

Saudi citizens and residents were allowed to enter the Grand Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) on October 4 as the ‘Phase I’ attendees amid coronavirus threat.

Under the initial phase, only 6,000 individuals would be able to perform Umrah every day which is 30 percent of the normal capacity of 20,000, Saudi Press Agency said.

For the strict implementation of SOPs, only those pilgrims who applied through the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s ‘Eatmarna’ app and followed its protocols were allowed. Health professionals accompanied all the pilgrim buses headed to the Grand Mosque. Thermal cameras were placed on entrance gates and halls to prevent any symptomatic person from entering the premises.

Phase II of the plan will commence from October 18 under which 15,000 pilgrims would be permitted inside. Finally, Phase III beginning from November 1 would allow visitors from specific countries ensuring strict travel measures at 100 percent original capacity until the pandemic lasts, SPA remarks.

All visitors under all phases would need to make prior bookings, select meeting points and means of transport through the newly-launched Eatmarna app to ensure the smooth running of crowds whilst maintaining social distancing.

In September, Saudi Arabia began to gradually lift the travel restrictions imposed since March. With a continuous evaluation of the situation, the tourist visas might resume by early 2021.

The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has issued guidelines for non-Saudi passengers to submit negative coronavirus test reports from verified laboratories 72 hours prior to their departure to any airport in Saudi Arabia.

The guidelines also include that ‘different regulations of the departure country must be considered and observed in determining the appropriate age to conduct Covid-19 (PCR) test for children.’

The decision to resume Umrah came after Saudia Arabia successfully organized the smallest Hajj of the modern era in July, with only 10,000 Muslims instead of millions as observed last year. No coronavirus cases were reported from the holy event.

Despite reporting 330,000 coronavirus cases and at least 4500 deaths overall, the data from kingdom also shows high recovery rates surpassing 312,000 on Tuesday.

If things run smoothly under the plan, the kingdom can eventually return to earning $12bn from Hajj and Umrah.

Member of staff, the author is a Political Science alumna from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). She keeps an eye out for issues of social justice, censorship and our changing political discourse.
She can be reached at rabeeaqamar@thecorrespondent.pk

Member of staff, the author is a Political Science alumna from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). She keeps an eye out for issues of social justice, censorship and our changing political discourse. She can be reached at rabeeaqamar@thecorrespondent.pk

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