Pilgrims in the UAE have been counting down the days to visit Saudi Arabia and perform Umrah.
Now, following the Kingdom's decision to ease Covid-19 restrictions, worshippers in the UAE are expressing their happiness at being able to travel and offer their prayers.
Umm Fahah, a 55-year-old Emirati, said: "I was longing to be there, as I used to travel annually to perform Umrah. InShallah, I will be there in the last 10 days for Ramadan," she said.
Demand for Umrah has risen considerably for the coming days and the last 10 days of Ramadan, and is expected to surge higher than pre-pandemic levels, as many worshippers are eager to perform Umrah after two years of Covid-19 restrictions.
The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah also announced that fully-vaccinated children are allowed to enter the Grand Mosque in Makkah and Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. The minimum age requirement for permits through the Umrahna and Tawakkalna applications is five years.
The ministry reported that it had issued more than 29.4 million permits to the Grand Mosque over the past seven months. During the same period, more than 3.7 million permits were granted to worshippers to the Prophet's Mosque.
On Twitter, Dr Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, said: "Two years ago, Umrah was closed down due to the pandemic, and now it is open to everyone."
Umrah agencies in the UAE welcomed Saudi authorities' decision to ease Covid-19 rules and restrictions.
In a statement, Saudi Arabia had said social distancing measures in the Grand Holy Mosque, the Prophet’s Holy Mosque and other mosques will be suspended, as well as in all open and closed places, activities and events. Masks, though not required outdoors, must be worn inside mosques and other indoor facilities.
Moreover, passengers arriving in the Kingdom will no longer be required to present PCR test or rapid antigen test results, while those arriving in the Kingdom on visit visas are required to have medical insurance to cover any incurred Covid-19 treatment costs during their stay in the Kingdom.
Institutional and home quarantine measures for passengers arriving in the Kingdom have also been lifted.
Mohammed Khatami, an Umrah agent in Dubai, said a large number of residents and citizens gathered at his office's premises on Sunday morning. Many others called to inquire about booking for Umrah before, during and the last few days of Ramadan.
Following the Saudi authorities' announcement, the turnout of pilgrims has increased by more than 50 per cent, said Mohamed Al Bayaty, owner of Al Tawakul for Hajj and Umrah operators. Since children over the age of five can now receive permits for Umrah, many families have also been making bookings.
"We are expected to face the issue of lack of hotel rooms in the Holy area, as many people preferred to stay close to Kaaba and the Holy Mosque," Al Bayaty said.
His company has prepared itineraries for groups, families and individuals. These include flights, hotel bookings, and transport from Jaddah to Makkah and Makkah to Madinah.
He added: “We have contacted the Saudi authorities for coordination. They have assured us they're providing the best services to pilgrims from their arrival up until their departure to their homelands after performing the rituals of Umrah."
Before worshippers depart the UAE, Al Bayaty said his company educates them on how to install the two applications Eatamarna and Tawakkalna.
Jubran Khan, a pilgrim who was booking at an Umrah operator office, said he was happy authorities are now permitting children over the age of five, as he was planning to perform Umrah with his wife and two daughters, aged eight and 10.
“We will travel next week before Ramadan,” he said.
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Afkar Ali Ahmed