Saudis set strict rules on shots for hajj pilgrims
Saudi authorities said on Monday only people immunized against COVID-19 will be allowed to perform the year-round umrah pilgrimage from the start of Ramadan, the holy fasting month for Muslims.
The hajj and umrah ministry said in a statement that three categories of people would be considered “immunized” — those who have received two doses of the vaccine, those administered a single dose at least 14 days prior, and people who have recovered from the infection.
Only those people will be eligible for permits to perform umrah, as well as to attend prayers in the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca.
The policy would effectively “raise the operational capacity” of the Grand Mosque during Ramadan, it said, adding that the condition also applies for entry into the city’s Prophet’s Mosque.
The ministry said the policy starts with Ramadan, which is due to begin later this month, but it was unclear how long it would last.
It was also not clear whether the policy, which comes amid an uptick in coronavirus infections in the kingdom, would be extended to the annual hajj pilgrimage later this year.
The announcement comes after King Salman replaced the hajj minister last month, less than a year after the kingdom hosted the smallest hajj in modern history due to the pandemic.
Mohammad Benten was relieved from his post and replaced by Essam bin Saeed, according to a royal decree published by official Saudi Press Agency.
Last year, the kingdom hosted a downsized hajj pilgrimage. Unlike umrah, it must be held after the fasting month of Ramadan. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime.
Only up to 10,000 Muslim residents of Saudi Arabia itself were allowed to take part, a far cry from the 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world in 2019. It is unclear how many pilgrims will be allowed for hajj this year.
Saudi Arabia has reported more than 393,000 coronavirus infections and 6,700 deaths from COVID-19.
The kingdom’s health ministry said it has administered more than 5 million doses, in a country with a population of over 34 million.