Saudi Arabia cancels Umrah pilgrimage host visas as it tries to stamp out Covid
Saudi Arabia has reportedly cancelled a visa that allows citizens and residents to host Muslim visitors to the kingdom for the Umrah pilgrimage as it continues to tighten its Covid rules.
"The Umrah host visa has been cancelled," Saudi news outlets reported the ministry for Hajj and Umrah as saying Wednesday. "Any update will be announced via the ministry’s official channels."
The ministry did not give a reason for the cancellation, according to the reports.
However, Saudi authorities have been tightening their Umrah restrictions since cases of the Omicron variant surged at the start of this year - despite a steady decline in Covid-19 case numbers since mid-January.
Umrah is one of two Islamic pilgrimages to Mecca, but can be performed any time during the year - unlike Hajj, which occurs in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar.
The Umrah host visa enables citizens or residents who meet certain strict conditions to host between three and five pilgrims.
Muslim pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia usually draw in millions of worshippers from around the globe and provide billions of dollars in revenue.
Visits came to a grinding halt when the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, with Saudi authorities imposing strict rules for entry to the country.
Riyadh has since gradually lifted restrictions on visitors from overseas, reopening its borders in August last year to foreign vaccinated pilgrims wishing to complete Umrah.
Currently, only Saudi nationals and residents cake make the Hajj pilgrimage.