| 24 May 2024, Friday |

Saudi king approves support for Hajj and Umrah operators hit by Covid

In order to help compensate firms and individuals that support the pilgrimages who have lost out due to the global pandemic, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has approved a raft of measures to help Umrah and Hajj pilgrimage operators after a year of curtailed travel and tight controls on the numbers of the faithful allowed into the Makkah and Madinah holy sites over Covid-19.

Accommodation facilities will be exempt from the annual fees for municipal commercial activities’ licenses in the cities of Makkah and Madinah, where the Islamic pilgrimages take place.

Facilities working in the sector will also be exempted from working expatriates’ fees for six months, and can renew the Tourism Ministry licenses for accommodation facilities free of charge in the two cities for a year, which can be extended.

For expatriates working in activities related to Hajj and Umrah, the collection of residency renewal fees will be postponed for six months, provided that the amounts are paid in instalments over a year, state-run SPA said.

Bus licenses operating in facilities transporting pilgrims will remain valid without charge for a year, and the collection of customs duties for new buses will be postponed for the upcoming Hajj season for three months.

They will be paid in instalments over a period of four months from the due date.

Umrah was suspended last March due to the pandemic but returned with strict Covid-19 protocols and limited numbers.

So far, not a single case has been reported among 5 million worshippers who have performed Umrah since October last year. Pilgrims register though the government app and receive time slots to ensure there is no overcrowding at sites.

Last year, Hajj went ahead despite the pandemic but rather than the over 2 million who usually attend from around the world, just 1,000 residents and nationals already in the kingdom were allowed.

All attendees needed to quarantine in advance and the entire pilgrimage was socially distanced but no Covid-19 cases were recorded as a result.

The Saudi authorities have yet to say how this year’s event will take place although the health minister said earlier this month that all those working the pilgrimage must be vaccinated