Saudi Arabia on Wednesday begins hosting the annual hajj pilgrimage, dramatically downscaled due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has hindered millions of international pilgrims for the first time in modern history.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kingdom has only allowed those living in the country and who meet certain criteria to participate in this year’s Hajj pilgrimage. Up to 10,000 people living in the kingdom will participate in the Muslim ritual, a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million that attended last year, after what many saw as an opaque selection process that left a wave of applicants rejected.
This year’s hajj, the foreign press are restricted from attending— usually a huge global media event— as the government tightens access to the holy city of Makkah and puts in place strict health restrictions to prevent the pandemic during the five-day pilgrimage — a key pillar of Islam.
The kingdom has recorded more than 260,000 cases of the coronavirus pandemic, while the number of declared global infections exceeded 16 million on Sunday.
Mask-clad pilgrims began entering into Makkah over the weekend and were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine, authorities said.
They were given elaborate amenity kits that include sterilised pebbles for a stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks, a prayer rug and the Ihram, according to a Hajj ministry programme document.
Pilgrims are required to be tested for the lethal disease before arriving in Makkah and will also have to quarantine after the pilgrimage.
The Saudi Hajj ministry said it has set up multiple health facilities, mobile clinics and ambulances to cater to the pilgrims, who will be required to observe social distancing.