From the start of Ramadan, only Muslims immunised against Covid-19 will be allowed to perform the umrah pilgrimage, Saudi authorities have said.

Unlike hajj, the shorter umrah pilgrimage is non-compulsory and can be performed at any time of year.

The hajj and umrah ministry announced 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 virus.

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 Mecca.

It added that the condition also applied for entry into the Prophet’s mosque in the holy city of Medina.

The ministry said the policy comes into force at the start of Ramadan but it was unclear how long it would last.

It was also not clear whether the policy, which comes amid a rise in coronavirus infections in the kingdom, would be extended to the annual hajj 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 had administered more than 5m coronavirus vaccines, in a country with a population of more than 34 million.

Last month, King Salman replaced the hajj minister, months after the kingdom hosted the smallest hajj 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 official Saudi Press Agency.

The kingdom hosted the hajj in late July last year. Only 10,000 residents of Saudi Arabia were allowed to take part, compared with 2.5 million Muslims from around the world who participated in 2019. It is unclear how many pilgrims will be allowed to perform the hajj this year.

According to the pro-government Okaz newspaper, only vaccinated pilgrims are likely to 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 partly resumed the umrah pilgrimage.

The umrah usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year.

Authorities said the umrah would be allowed to return to full capacity once the threat of the pandemic had abated.

This content first appear on the guardian

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