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image sourceReutersimage captionThe Umrah pilgrimage can be undertaken at any time of the year

Saudi Arabia is to begin accepting vaccinated foreign visitors to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as part of the Umrah pilgrimage.

The authorities will begin taking travel requests from Monday.

The kingdom closed its borders some 18 months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since 1 August, vaccinated foreign tourists are also allowed in.

Last month, only around 60,000 vaccinated residents were allowed to take part in a scaled-down Hajj.

  • In pictures: Masks and social distancing at Hajj

The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims who are able to must perform at least once in their lifetime. It takes place at a set time of year: in 2022, it will run from 7 to 12 July.

The Umrah pilgrimage includes Medina as well as Mecca. It can be undertaken at any time of the year and attracts millions from around the world.

Saudi Arabia will initially allow 60,000 pilgrims to perform the pilgrimage each month, gradually increasing numbers to reach two million people a month, the state Saudi Press Agency (SPA) says.

Saudi Arabia recognises the following vaccines: Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Foreign visitors will also have to agree to undergo quarantine if necessary, the SPA quotes deputy hajj minister Abdulfattah bin Sulaiman Mashat as saying.

The country has recorded nearly 532,000 coronavirus cases and more than 8,300 deaths.

Separately, it has also said it will begin compensating the families of health workers who died because of the coronavirus, state media reported.

Last year, it said each would receive 500,000 riyals ($133,000; £96,000).