Saudi Arabia plans to reopen the two holiest sites in Islam to pilgrims in October, seven months after it suspended visits to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as it attempts to revive its floundering economy.
The kingdom curtailed visits to the main mosques in Mecca and Medina in March after religious gatherings emerged as major spreaders of the virus in the Middle East and other parts of the world. It also locked down parts of its economy but eased most restrictions in June.
Under new regulations, local and foreign residents of Saudi Arabia will be permitted to enter the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina for the year-round umrah pilgrimage starting Oct. 4, the interior ministry said late Tuesday.
The capacity of both mosques will initially be limited to 30% and gradually increased to 100% on Nov. 1, when pilgrims from outside the kingdom will also be allowed. Entry to the sites will be controlled via a mobile app, and worshipers will be required to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
Restoring religious tourism, a major source of revenue for the Saudi government, in a phased manner follows a nearly three-month decline in reported infections that prompted authorities last week to begin removing curbs on international travel.