Saudi authorities said on Monday that only people who are immunized against Covid-19 are allowed to make the pilgrimage around the year from the beginning of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said in a statement that three categories of people would be considered “immunized” – those who had received two doses of the vaccine, those who had been administered a single dose at least 14 days before, and those who had recovered from infection.
Only these people will be eligible for permission to perform umrah, as well as to participate in prayers in the Great Mosque of the Holy City of Mecca.
It added that the condition also applies to entry to the Prophet’s mosque in the holy city of Medina.
The ministry said the policy would begin with Ramadan, which will begin later this month, but it was unclear how long it would last.
It was also not clear whether the policy, which comes amid an upsurge in coronavirus infections in the UK, would be extended to the annual hajj pilgrimage later this year.
Saudi Arabia has reported more than 393,000 coronavirus infections and 6,700 deaths from Covid-19.
The UK Ministry of Health said it had administered more than five million coronavirus vaccines in a country with a population of over 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 of his duties and replaced by Essam bin Saeed, according to a royal decree issued by the official Saudi press authority (SPA).
The kingdom hosted the hajj at the end of July last year.
Only 10,000 Muslim residents of Saudi Arabia themselves were allowed to participate, far from the 2.5 million Muslims from around the world who participated in 2019.
It is unclear how many pilgrims may be allowed for hajj this year.
According to the newspaper Okaz, only vaccinated pilgrims are allowed this year.
In a relaxation of the curbs in October last year, Saudi Arabia opened the Grand Mosque for prayers for the first time in seven months and partially resumed its umrah pilgrimage.
Umrah usually attracts millions of Muslims from all over the world every year.
Authorities said the umrah will be able to return to full capacity once the threat of the pandemic has subsided.