Photos: Saudi resumes Umrah in Makkah under strict Covid-19 measures

SPA, Reuters

Last updated on October 4, 2020 at 6.24 am
Makkah's Grand Mosque has opened its doors to the first group of pilgrims performing Umrah amid strict† precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The pilgrims circumambulated the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah, while keeping a distance from one another and wearing face masks.
The pilgrims circumambulated the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah, while keeping a distance from one another and wearing face masks.
The General Presidency of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, in cooperation with other authorities, has completed its preparations to receive the Umrah performers, applying the highest precautionary measures, in cooperation with the competent authorities, as it recruited no less than (1,000) employees to follow the rituals of Umrah in the Grand Mosque.
The Presidency also cleans the Grand Mosque 10 times a day before and after the Umrah groups, sanitising the toilets 6 times a day, sterilising the carpets of the Grand Mosque, basins of the Zamzam water fountains, and all vehicles.
The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque has placed thermal cameras, to keep the Two Holy Mosques free of Covid-19.
The Umrah, the pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time, usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year. It will be revived in three stages, with the initial phase seeing just 6,000 citizens and residents already within the Kingdom allowed to take part each day.
"In the first stage, the umrah will be performed meticulously and within a specified period of time," Haj Minister Mohammad Benten told state television last week. He said pilgrims will be divided into groups to ensure social distancing within the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
On October 18, the number of pilgrims will be increased to 15,000 per day, with a maximum of 40,000 people allowed to perform prayers at the mosque. Visitors from abroad will be permitted from November 1, when capacity will be raised to 20,000 pilgrims, with 60,000 people allowed into the mosque.
The decision to resume the pilgrimage was in response to the "aspirations of Muslims home and abroad" to perform the ritual and visit the holy sites, the interior ministry said last month.??
It added that the Umrah would be allowed to return to full capacity once the threat of the pandemic has abated.
Until then, the health ministry will vet countries from which pilgrims are allowed to enter based on the health risks. Those wishing to perform the umrah must apply through two mobile applications: one to register they are free from the virus, and another from which they can obtain a permit.

Logistical challenge

Saudi Arabia suspended the Umrah in March and scaled back the annual Haj over fears that the coronavirus could spread the holiest cities.
State media have said that a raft of precautions have been adopted to ward off any outbreaks during the Umrah.
The revered Black Stone in the eastern corner of the Kaaba - which it is customary but not mandatory to touch during the pilgrimage - will be out of reach, while the Grand Mosque will be regularly sterilised before and after each group of worshippers.
Each group will be accompanied by a health worker and medical teams will be on the ground in case of an emergency. The pilgrimages are a massive logistical challenge, with colossal crowds cramming into the holy sites, making them vulnerable to contagion.