Saudi Arabia has begun to accept applications for Umrah from international Muslim pilgrims on condition that they have received the Covid-19 vaccination. The announcement was made through state media, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Sunday (8/8). SPA reported, the relevant ministry would receive Umrah applications from various countries in the world starting Monday 9 August 2021.
Thus, even though the Covid-19 pandemic is not over, Saudi Arabia is estimated to have started granting permits for 60,000 Umrah pilgrims who have been vaccinated. That number will gradually be increased to two million per month. Umrah pilgrims from abroad who are allowed to perform worship in the Holy Land must include an officially recognized Covid-19 vaccination certificate along with other requirements for Umrah.
Saudi Arabia's move to reopen Umrah for international pilgrims is quite bold. It needs cooperation at the international level so that there is no transmission of Covid-19 in Mecca. For Muslims outside Saudi Arabia who want to perform Umrah in the Holy Land, the decision is a breath of fresh air and encouraging.
However, the Saudi Government also imposes quite strict regulations, especially for pilgrims who, even though have been vaccinated, come from nine countries on the list of prohibited entry to Saudi Arabia. They are India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Lebanon. They will be quarantined for 14 days in third countries before entering Saudi Arabia. The reason is because Saudi Arabia has recognized only four types of vaccines, namely Pfizer, Moderna, Johnsons & Johnsons, and AstraZeneca. In fact on one hand, the Covid-19 vaccinations obtained by the 9 countries have already been approved and permitted by the World Health Organization -WHO. On the other hand, these countries, especially Indonesia with the largest Muslim population in the world, are known for their large number of Umrah pilgrims and bring in considerable income/foreign exchange for Saudi Arabia. The question is whether Saudi Arabia will relax the conditions in question given this fact.
Each country certainly needs to convince Saudi Arabia that the vaccines given to their citizens, although not included in the list of the Saudi Arabian government, have been tested and received permission from the WHO.
Understandably, the regulations are enforced solely to ensure that Umrah activities in the Holy Land are carried out in a safe manner by implementing all preventive measures and strict health protocols. This is considering that Umrah activities inevitably involve a great number of people with the potential to crowd. Thus, Umrah pilgrims are expected to be protected from the risk of Covid-19 transmission.