Saudi Arabia plans to ban overseas pilgrims from the annual haj pilgrimage for the second time due to the infectious COVID-19 virus as global tolls and fears rise about the emergence of new variants, sources told Reuters.

Such a move would restrict the pilgrimage to Mecca, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, to Saudi nationals and residents of the kingdom who were vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 at least months prior to attending. 

This order will restrict pilgrimage to Mecca, which is one of the pillars of Islam.

Reuters reported that only vaccinated Saudi national and residents of the kingdom will be allowed to pilgrimage.

The matter is currently under review about a possible ban, there has been no final decision on pursuing barring pilgrims yet.

Before the pandemic stroke Saudi Arabia was host to more than 2.5 million pilgrims visiting the holy sites of Mecca and Medica during long haj, adding the umrah pilgrimage to it the country reportedly was making about $12 billion annually, Reuters reported.

Saudia Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s economic plans predicted a rise to the number of umrah and haj pilgrims to 5 and 15 million by 2020, the plan aimed at doubling pilgrims by 30 million visitors by 2030 aimed at increasing the revenues to an estimated $13.32 billion, Reuters stated in a report.

Restrictions will reportedly be applied on the age of the participants as well, sources told Reuters.

Preliminary plans will allow vaccinated pilgrims from overseas, but there are confusions over types of vaccines, their efficacy, and the emergence of new variants, which pushed the Saudi officials for reconsideration, according to Reuters.

Government media office did not respond to Reuters’ request to comment on the matter.

Saudi Arabia barred foreign pilgrims last year due to the COVID-19 Pandemic for the first time in Kingdom’s history and allowed only limited local pilgrims.

Earlier in February, the country also announced it had suspended entries to Saudi Arabia from 20 nations, including United Arab Emirates, Germany, the United States, Britain, South Africa, France, Egypt, Lebanon, India, and Pakistan.

The ban remains in effect while global COVID-19 toll keeps rising.

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