PESHAWAR: The authorities have announced to resume Umrah pilgrimage in phases in Saudi Arabia, which was suspended to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Benten said a three-stage plan is being under consideration for the gradual restoration of Umrah. He said public health remains the Kingdom’s top priority and all precautionary measures will be taken while restoration of the pilgrimages.

During the first phase, Saudi citizens and expatriates living in the kingdom will be allowed to perform Umrah. Under the precautionary measures, only 40 percent pilgrims of the normal capacity will be allowed to perform the religious obligation in first phase. In the second phase, the capacity of 75 percent will be allowed if the first phase worked well, and then the full capacity will be restored if the second phase was completed successfully. During the third phase, pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia will be allowed to return.

The Saudi health minister said the kingdom will support all the stakeholders during this time of institutional transformation. He said the kingdom wants to empower Umrah companies and related organisations to become strong economic entities that provide high-quality services.

Benten said more than 30 local and international companies will provide services to the pilgrims through an electronic platform that will enable the service providers to carry out the necessary follow-up while serving pilgrims. He added that Umrah companies and institutions serve more than 16 million pilgrims from the Kingdom and the rest of the world.

The minister emphasised the importance of early registration for Umrah, and said that Umrah companies are responsible for conducting studies to identify the needs of pilgrims, including those who arrive through transit countries. Citizens of 80 countries can now visit the Kingdom for Umrah without requiring a visa and this number will rise.

Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abddulfattah Mashat said a forum had been organized for enriching the experience of Umrah pilgrims. He said the economics of Hajj and Umrah are not limited to the services provided to pilgrims but also include many other optional services and logistics. He said the ministry is working to manage the institutional transformation effectively and improve services.