After six months, Saudi Arabia on Sunday resumed the Umrah pilgrimage for hundreds of residents of the country amid stringent health measures in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hundreds of residents were welcomed into Makkah on Sunday who circled the Holy Kaaba along socially distanced paths.
The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques received pilgrims. The pilgrims gathered at allocated sites in Makkah including Ajyad, Al-Shasha, Al-Gazzah and Al-Zahir, and were transported to the Kaaba in special buses.
Moreover, at least 1,000 employees have been appointed to monitor Umrah rituals at the Grand Mosque which is cleaned 10 times a day. In order to ensure the safety of the Umrah pilgrims, thermal cameras have been placed at the entrances and inside halls of the Grand Mosque to monitor body temperature spikes and issue alerts if necessary.
The Kingdom took drastic measures to combat the pandemic and suspended the Umrah pilgrimage and prayers in mosques in mid-March.
Saudi Arabia also halted international flights and implemented a lockdown to prevent surge in virus cases.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Ministry said that the visitors from outside the Kingdom will be allowed to perform Umrah from November 1 after the capacity of the holy site will be raised to 20,000 pilgrims per day.
Pilgrims trickled into Makkah after Saudi Arabian authorities on Sunday partially lifted a coronavirus ban on performing Umrah after a seven-month curb.
Saudi Arabia, which held a scaled back Haj earlier this year limited to domestic worshippers, has allowed citizens and residents to start performing Umrah as of Sunday at 30 per cent capacity, or 6,000 pilgrims a day. It will open for Muslims from abroad starting Nov 1.
“All of Makkah is happy today, it’s like the end of a jail term. We have missed the spiritual feeling of pilgrims roaming the city,” said Yasser al-Zahrani, who became a full time Uber driver after losing his construction job during a three-month national lockdown imposed in March.
“I pray we never go through the past few months again, it was a nightmare […] there was barely any work to cover my bills,” he told Reuters.
Before the pandemic, more than 1,300 hotels and hundreds of stores buzzed around the clock to cater to pilgrims visiting the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
Now many are closed, the windows of some gathering dust. At midnight, tens of registered pilgrims wearing face masks prepared to enter the Grand Mosque in small groups.As the pilgrims circled the Kaaba, officials made sure they kept a safe distance apart. Worshippers are no longer allowed to touch the Kaaba.—Agencies