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Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Saudi Arabia has introduced new measures to ensure the safety of its residents and implementation of social distancing rules during Haj. The kingdom had earlier said only 60,000 residents will be allowed to perform Haj this year.

The Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umrah has announced that pilgrims without a smart card and documented official permit will not be allowed to perform Haj, local media reported.

Only Muslims aged 18 to 65 who have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination 14 days prior to their arrival and have not been chronically ill will be allowed to enter the holy cities.

Dr. Abdul Fattah Mashat, Deputy Minister of Haj and Umrah, said that the permit issue will be matched to the electronic card and the pilgrim’s ID, emphasising that there is no other platform to apply for Haj except the ministry’s official website.

“Any company that offers service packages outside the ministry’s platform will be violating the rules,” he said, adding that at the first stages of the ‘Eatmarna’ application, we noticed some violations by some entities and individuals, but with the passage of time, community awareness began to increase.”

As of Wednesday, more than 470,000 applications were received to perform Haj, with all immunisation conditions met.

The Ministry of Tourism has a list of requirements to which the allocated hotels in Mecca and Medina must meet. Food will be provided in the pilgrims’ rooms as open buffets are banned to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The novel Haj smart card system will be linked via a QR code to their smartphones, which they can use for various purposes such as access to camps, transport, hotels, cashless payment terminals and ATMs.