The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah of Saudi Arabia has finally reopened the doors of Islam’s holiest site in Mecca on Oct.4, marking the end of restrictions placed in March 2020 as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. As the world continues its battle against the pandemic, the Saudi Government has decided to stagger the re-opening in phases; allowing no more than 6,000 pilgrims a day to enter the Grand Mosque currently to perform the Umrah and limiting this to only Saudi citizens and residents.
The second phase of the reopening will come in effect on Oct. 18, where up to 40,0000 residents and citizens of the Saudi Kingdom will be allowed for prayers and up to 15,000 to perform Umrah. Contingent on the global situation, Muslims from across the world may be able to perform the Umrah by November 1, 2020. According to the Saudi Hajj Minister, groups of 20 to 25 individuals will each be accompanied by a health worker and medical teams in case of emergency.
Arrangements are in place to sterilize and clean the premises of the mosque multiple times a day. An online application was launched by the authorities for interested residents to sign up to reserve a date and time to avoid over-crowding, Al Jazeera reported. To keep people at a distance from each other and avoid spreading the virus, strips of tape have been stuck to the ground around the Kaaba, showing people where to walk.
The Grand Mosque is one of the holiest sites for Muslims from all over the world and attractsabout 2.5 million pilgrims a year for a week-long ritual that is mandatory once-in-a-lifetime for able-bodied Muslims. In contrast, this year saw about 1,000 pilgrims that took part in this holy journey after they were tested for the virus and quarantined.
Despite acting quickly and closing down the borders, as of this report, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has seen more than 337,000 positive cases and over 4,900 COVID-19 related deaths, data from John Hopkins University found.