On February 27, 2020, Saudi Arabia took a set of economic, social, and health measures to keep Saudi citizens, residents, and businesses protected by temporarily banning locals and tourists wanting to perform the Umrah pilgrimage in the Holy Mosque of Mecca. This ban applied in Madina on locals and tourists seeking to visit the Prophet’s Mosque due to the rising cases of Covid-19 as decided by Saudi Arabia’s health authorities.

Saudi Arabia is the Arab world’s largest economy with a population of about 30 million. Saudi Arabia announced its first case of the coronavirus on March 02, 2020, and besides strict curfews, precautionary measures were quickly met due to this. The Holy Mosque of Mecca was temporarily closed for daily sterilization on March 05, then on March 19th daily prayers and Friday prayers were officially suspended to limit the spread of COVID-19. During the same week, several measures were carried throughout Saudi Arabia, and on March 20, the entry to both of the Holy Mosques was suspended.

Umrah is a year-round pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken by Muslims worldwide and often mistaken for Hajj, which takes place just once a year. Muslims pray towards the cube-shaped Kaaba located in the Holy Mosque of Mecca, Five times a day

On May 30, 2020, Saudi Arabia announced that mosques throughout the Kingdom would officially start to re-open on March 31, except for the Holy Mosque of Mecca. The state television revealed on June 19 that the mosques in Mecca would be permitted to re-open on June 21 if the people of Saudi Arabia would take measures of safety against COVID-19.

As Saudi Arabia steadily lifts limitations placed on the Kingdom’s holiest locations for the past seven months due to COVID-19, starting from October 04, Muslims will once again be permitted to perform Umrah. The government of Saudi Arabia plans to permit up to 6,000 Saudi citizens and residents each day during the first phase to enter the Holy Mosque of Mecca. To avoid over-crowding and maintain social distancing, visitors will be required to apply through an online app to reserve a specific date. Visitors will also be allowed to select the method of transportation and meeting points through the app.

During the second phase, which commences on October 18, based on appointed time and date through the app, a maximum amount of 15,000 pilgrims among Saudi citizens and residents will be allowed into the Holy Mosque and Saudi residents.  The Interior Ministry of Saudi Arabia revealed that Muslim travelers from abroad could potentially perform Umrah starting on November 01. For the first time since March, Saudi Arabia has already begun lessening restrictions on international flights. The Interior Ministry of Saudi Arabia stated that they would continuously assess the regulations and developments associated with COVID-19.

Saudi Arabia downsized significantly on pilgrims for Hajj in July to ensure safety and not have an erupted spread of COVID-19. During previous years, over 2.5 million pilgrims would visit Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj, whereas this year, after being quarantined and tested for COVID-19, only 1,000 lucky few pilgrims were given the opportunity. Saudi Arabia has had 333,648 cases of COVID-19 so far, with 4,712 deaths and 317,846 recoveries and a significant decrease in recent instances.

State news agency informed that after January 01, 2021, Saudi Arabia would fully lift all restrictions and allow its citizens and residents to travel in and out of the country just as before, assuming all COVID-19 related safety procedures are followed planned. Visitors internationally with good work, residency, and visit visas as long as they obey all COVID-19 related safety measures and all means of transportation, including land, sea, and airports.

All visitors from outside of Saudi Arabia must show proof of being COVID-19 negative with a test no older than 48 hours by a certified individual. Based on updates, Saudi Arabia will later state a plan to allow the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca progressively. This will continue with the Holy Mosque having a significantly fewer capacity than usual until Saudi Arabia’s health authorities determine that the risks of COVID-19 have passed. Saudi Arabia to lift ban on Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca.

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