Hajj pilgrimage amid coronavirus pandemic
This year, the pilgrimage is being limited to between 1,000 to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom as the Saudi authorities seek to control COVID-19. Pilgrims will be required to wear masks and observe social distancing during religious rites. International travellers have been barred this time from the Hajj.
The Hajj pilgrimage -- one of Islam's most important and profound requirements, performed once in a lifetime -- has begun in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca in a dramatically downsized version to prevent any outbreaks of coronavirus during the five-day religious rites.
The Hajj is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings as more than 2 million people gather at the holy sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina from all over the world. But this year, the pilgrimage is being limited to between 1,000 to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom as the Saudi authorities seek to control COVID-19.
For the first time in decades, international visitors have been banned from making the journey to Mecca. This year the only foreigners allowed to attend are those who reside in the kingdom. Some 70% of the worshippers this year are foreign residents of Saudi Arabia, with the rest being Saudi nationals.
Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 270,000 cases with nearly 3,000 deaths, one of the largest outbreaks in the Middle East. "Hajj in 2020 is a truly exceptional pilgrimage by all measures," Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten said, according to a statement by the kingdom's media ministry.
"Due to the exceptional global health circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic, strict precautionary measures have been applied to ensure a healthy Hajj for all pilgrims."
CHANGES THIS YEAR
Authorities say that pilgrims performing Hajj this year have undergone a rigorous selection process and that they were required to go through periods of self-isolation before arriving in the holy cities. Worshippers are expected to quarantine after their arrival and upon their return, according to the media ministry.
They will be required to wear masks at all times and observe social distancing during a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in Mecca and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia.
Those selected to take part in the Hajj were also subject to temperature checks.
As part of preventive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), special entry and exit pathways have been allocated at the Grand Mosque for the pilgrimage, Arab News reported. Dedicated routes for worshippers will extend from the southern and western parts of the mosque, as well as around the circumambulation and Saee areas.
Making the pilgrimage at least once is one of the Five Pillars of Islam - the five obligations that every Muslim, who is in good health and can afford it, must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life.
The pilgrimage includes numerous detailed rituals including wearing a special garment that symbolizes human equality and unity before God, a circular, counter-clockwise procession around the Kaaba, and the symbolic stoning of evil.