Manama: Saudi Arabia has resumed Umrah pilgrimage amid strict coronavirus precautions on Sunday, after a more-than-six-month hiatus. Domestic pilgrims –including citizens and residents-were allowed to enter the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah to perform the rituals.

The pilgrims are the first to perform the Umrah since the outbreak in March. They will carry out the pilgrimage amid strict health regulations. Pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque (Masjid al-Haram), while keeping a distance from one another and wearing face masks.

Earlier in September, Saudi Arabia announced it will begin gradually allowing Umrah pilgrimage starting from October 4 in stages. The first batch of pilgrims were limited to residents and citizens. According to the first phase, 6,000 pilgrims will be admitted per day. These six thousand people are divided into six groups equally. Each person has up to three hours to complete the pilgrimage and each day of the Umrah would be divided into six stages. After each group leaving the area, Haram will be disinfected, six times a day. Each stage will demand 30 percent of the operation capacity of the Masjid al-Haram, or 6,000 staff members.

Only Saudi citizens and residents would be permitted to enter the mosque during this first phase of reopening. Applicants can register on the Eatmarna app and gain access to dates and book time slots in advance to avoid crowding and maintain social distancing. The Hajj ministry said 1,08,041 people had already been issued permits for Umrah.

The second phase of easing of restrictions at the Grand Mosque came into effect on Oct. 18, allowing between 15,000 and 40,000 for prayer from among residents and citizens based on allocated times via the app. The second phase will witness a 75 percent increase in the operational capacity and the number of pilgrims. In the third phase starting from November 1, from 20,000 to 60,000 pilgrims will be permitted to enter the Haram for Umrah. In the third phase, foreign pilgrims will also be allowed, according to the ministry.

In late February, Saudi Arabia announced the temporary suspension of entry for individuals seeking to perform Umrah pilgrimage in Mecca or visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, as part of the measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. On March 4, the Kingdom also suspended Umrah pilgrimage for its citizens and residents. By mid-March, the Kingdom had suspended performing group Friday and daily prayers in all of its mosques as a precaution against the coronavirus as well.

Saudi Arabia has the worst-hit country in terms of coronavirus cases and deaths. So far, 3,36,387 people have been infected. Of these, 4,875 died. 3,21,485 people were cured. In Saudi new coronavirus infection has dropped drastically.

On Sunday, Saudi recorded less than 400 coronavirus infections for the first time in five months. The Health Ministry reported 390 new COVID-19 cases. It also announced that 511 more patients recovered, increasing the total number of recoveries to 321,485.

Umrah is a pilgrimage to Makkah. However, unlike Hajj, it is not mandatory, can be completed within a few hours, and can be performed year-round. Some Umrah pilgrims choose to visit the Prophet’s mosque in Medina.

Preventive measures applied to those entering the Grand Mosque included temperature checks, sanitization operations, smart bands, face coverings and social distancing while performing Umrah rituals.