A top official has outlined how Saudi Arabia is managing the umrah pilgrimage to ensure that the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is kept under control.
In an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson, Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of Health, Dr Mohammed Al-Abdulaali, said that measures, including more than 100 protocols, have been implemented to ensure the safety of the pilgrimage of Muslims to Makkah.
Makkah reopens for limited ‘umrah’ pilgrimage following coronavirus suspension
The revered Black Stone in the eastern corner of the Kaaba will be out of reach as part of strict health and safety measures
Al-Abdulaali stated that no one in high-risk categories can participate in the pilgrimage, but anyone can get a test, and treatment, free of charge regardless of status.
“We are not only reacting to the situation, but also proactively reacting to it,” he said, adding that “very innovative ways to perform Umrah safely” have been devised.
He said the Ministry of Health and the other agencies have managed the number and flow of people performing umrah, with social distancing and health officials participating and accompanying each group, adding that face masks are mandatory.
His comments come as Saudi Arabia resumed phase one of the umrah pilgrimage.
The umrah, the pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time, usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year but it was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 3,500 workers and 85 machines are being used six times a day to disinfect the Grand Mosque with 2,160 litres of environmentally-friendly sanitisers.
It is being revived in three phases, with Saudi Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten saying earlier this month that 6,000 pilgrims per day will be allowed in the first stage to perform the umrah.
A raft of precautions have been adopted to ward off any outbreaks during the umrah. The revered Black Stone in the eastern corner of the Kaaba – which it is customary but not mandatory to touch during the pilgrimage – will be out of reach, while the Grand Mosque will be sterilised before and after each group of worshippers.
Saudi Arabia to reopen holy sites in stages for umrah pilgrimage
Initial phase from Sunday will see just 6,000 citizens and residents already within the kingdom allowed to take part each day
Under the second stage from Sunday, the number of umrah pilgrims will be increased to 15,000 per day, with a maximum of 40,000 people, including pilgrims and other worshippers, allowed to perform prayers at the mosque.
Visitors from abroad will be permitted in the third stage from November 1, when capacity will be raised to 20,000 and 60,000, respectively.
Al-Abdulaali said Saudi hospitals have increased the capacity of beds – regular beds, isolation beds and intensive care beds – to cope with coronavirus infections.
Saudi Arabia has so far seen more than 336,000 cases and almost 5,000 deaths, with more than 230 centres receiving those who are having any symptoms.
“There are three national centers looking at all these results and do simulations and do predictions. So, we are not only reacting to the situation, but also proactively reacting to it,” he said.
Saudi Arabia suspends Umrah pilgrimage over virus fears
Annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah is put on hold in response to the threat posed by the new coronavirus
He added: “We deeply analyse all the available data to ensure that we know what’s going to be in front of us. We passed the first 70 to 80 days of this pandemic with the restrictions, early interventions, very strict interventions to ensure that we are suppressing the curve, and we returned back to our life but with new normal. And this new normal is very important. We opened multiple activities, but we have more than 100 protocols, to ensure that people are returning social, or sectoral, with appropriate new behaviours and new norms.”