Saudi Arabia has introduced new restrictions on the issuance of Umrah permits amid the surge in coronavirus cases of the Omicron variant.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah imposed a ten-day waiting period between two Umrahs in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the Two Holy Mosques.

The ministry had previously imposed a 15-day gap between the performances of two Umrah pilgrimages but cancelled it in October. That same month the kingdom lifted all coronavirus restrictions and began allowing performance of Umrah and prayers at the Two Holy Mosques to their full capacity following a directive issued by King Salman.

However, last week the kingdom announced that it had reapplied social distancing measures at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah from 30 December in order to curb the spread, in addition to the mandatory wearing of face masks.

On 26 December the Saudi Health Ministry stated that there was a spike in COVID-19 cases, with infections more than doubling in a week. At the beginning of last month, the first case of the Omicron variant was reported.

The new measures come as Saudi Arabia’s new COVID-19 cases went above the 3,000 mark for the first time, with 3,054 new infections recorded within 24 hours, according to the Saudi Gazette today. This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 565,482 with 8,886 virus-related fatalities.

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