Saudi authorities said on Monday only people immunised against Covid-19 will be allowed to perform the year-round Umrah pilgrimage from the start of Ramazan.
The Haj and Umrah ministry said in a statement that three categories of people would be considered “immunised” — 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 Makkah.
It added that the condition also applies for entry into the Prophet’s Mosque in Madina.
The ministry said the policy starts with Ramazan, 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 Haj pilgrimage later 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 five million Covid-19 vaccines, in a country with a population of over 34m.
Last month, King Salman replaced the Haj minister, months after the kingdom hosted the smallest Haj 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 the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
The kingdom hosted the Haj in late July last year.
Only 10,000 Muslim residents of Saudi Arabia itself were allowed to take part, a far cry from the 2.5m Muslims from around the world who participated in 2019.
It is unclear how many pilgrims will be allowed for Haj this year.
According to the pro-government Okaz newspaper, only vaccinated pilgrims will likely be permitted this year.
In a relaxation of coronavirus curbs last October, Saudi Arabia opened the Grand Mosque for prayers for the first time in seven months and partially resumed Umrah.
The Umrah usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year.
Authorities said the Umrah will be allowed to return to full capacity once the threat of the pandemic has abated.
Last month, the Saudi government had announced that there would be no iftar gatherings or Aitekaf at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque during Ramazan.
Visitors from outside the country will not be able to perform Umrah during the fasting month as the kingdom has already suspended international flights till May 17.
The country’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (Gaca) earlier said that international airports will reopen and international flights will be allowed to resume on May 17 — after Ramazan is over.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Haj and Umrah had advised those wanting to perform Umrah to get vaccinated beforehand.
“Preventative protocols will continue to be in place, but as a precautionary measure, it is advised that all those who wish to perform the ritual take the Covid-19 vaccine,” he was quoted as saying by Al-Arabiya.
Other restrictions that the minister had announced included wearing masks at all times during Umrah, age limits wherein only those between 18 to 50 years would be allowed to perform it and enforcement of social distancing.
Meanwhile, the kingdom has made it mandatory for people involved in preparations for Haj and Umrah to get vaccinated by the first of Ramazan, according to reports.