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Haj 2020: Saudi authorities prepare for pilgrims' arrival on Mount Arafat

reporters@khaleejtimes.com Filed on July 30, 2020 | Last updated on July 30, 2020 at 06.33 am
Saudi authorities, prepare, medical care, Mount Arafat, Haj, Muslim, pilgrimage, coronavirus, Covid-19
Muslim pilgrims wearing protective face masks pray around the Kaaba at the Grand mosque during the annual Haj pilgrimage amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia July 29, 2020.

(Reuters)

Rigorous health provisions have been put in place, with officials reporting no Covid-19 cases among pilgrims.

Preparations have been completed by the Saudi Health Ministry to provide medical care for pilgrims who will on Thursday congregate on the plains of Mount Arafat to perform the pinnacle of the Haj pilgrimage, the ninth day of Zul Hijjah.

Arafat health provisions have had general clinics installed, which are staffed by family doctors, internal consultants and intensive care nurses. There are also provisions to deal with those suffering from sunstroke and heat stress.

There will also be a mobile hospital in Arafat and mobile clinics in Muzdalifah throughout the Day of Arafat.

An integrated camp in the Arafat areas has been prepared by the ministry to isolate any suspected Covid-19 cases and take any preventive measures.

Saudi Civil Defence forces have ensures their readiness in Mina and have taken all precautions to ensure pilgrims' safety throughout their stay.

The commander of the Civil Defense for Hajj, Maj. Gen. Hamoud Al Faraj, said. "All parties involved are carrying out their tasks to handle any risks according to the general plan for the Haj pilgrimage.

On the Day of Tarwiyah, the ministry announced that no Covid-19 cases were reported among pilgrims.

Saudi authorities have limited the number pilgrims attending this year's Haj to 1,000 to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) secretary-general has called upon pilgrims to adhere to social-distancing measures to preserve everyone's health.Dr Yousef Al Othaimeen urged pilgrims to follow the health procedures applied by the competent authorities in Saudi Arabia to protect themselves and their families and all pilgrims. He also urged them to take advantage of the health and regulatory services provided by the Saudi Arabian government.

Dr Al Othaimeen thanked Saudi rulers for their keenness to continue Haj in light of the pandemic.

Earlier, mask-clad Muslims began the Haj on Wednesday, circling Islam's holiest site along socially distanced paths in the smallest pilgrimage in modern history as the Saudi hosts strive to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.

The Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world's largest religious gatherings.

But only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will participate in this year's ritual, compared with 2019's gathering of some 2.5 million from around the world.

Pilgrims walked into the holy city of Makkah's Grand Mosque to begin the ritual with their first "tawaf", the circumambulation of the Kaaba, a large cubic structure draped in gold-embroidered black cloth, towards which Muslims around the world pray.

They were brought in small batches, walking along paths marked on the floor, in sharp contrast to the normal sea of humanity that swirls around the Kaaba during Haj.

"This is an indescribable feeling," said Mohamed Ibrahim, a 43-year-old Egyptian electrician who was among this year's pilgrims. 

"It feels like a dream," the father-of-three, who lives in nearby Medina, told AFP by phone before entering the mosque.

The tawaf, which involves walking around the structure seven times, was completed in "record time", a security commander told state media.

The pilgrims travelled later Wednesday to Mina, another district of Makkah where they will spend the night. It sits in a narrow valley surrounded by rocky mountains, and is transformed each year into a vast encampment for pilgrims.

Worshippers will on Thursday climb Mount Arafat, also known as the "Mount of Mercy", for hours of prayers and Koranic recitals.

After descending the following day, they will gather pebbles and perform the symbolic "stoning of the devil".

'Danger of pandemic'

The pilgrims, who have all been tested for the virus, are required to wear masks and observe social distancing during the rites completed over five days in the holy city of Makkah and its surroundings.

The pilgrims said they were given ihram, the traditional seamless white Haj garment, made from a bacteria-resistant material.

Those selected to take part were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began trickling into Makkah at the weekend.

State media showed health workers sanitising their luggage, and some pilgrims reported being given electronic wristbands to allow authorities to monitor their whereabouts.

Workers clutching brooms and disinfectant were seen cleaning the area around the Kaaba. One worker used his bare hands to daub its outer wall with perfume.

Authorities have cordoned off the Kaaba this year, saying pilgrims will be barred from touching it, to limit the chances of infection.

Saudi authorities also reported setting up multiple health facilities, mobile clinics and ambulances to cater to the pilgrims.

"There are no security-related concerns in this pilgrimage, but (downsizing) is to protect pilgrims from the danger of the pandemic," said Saudi Arabia's director of public security, Khalid bin Qarar Al Harbi.

Saudi authorities initially said only around 1,000 pilgrims residing in the Kingdom would be permitted for the Haj. Some 70 per cent of the pilgrims are foreigners residing in the kingdom, while the rest are Saudi citizens, authorities said.

'Blessed'

All those attending the pilgrimage will also have to quarantine afterwards.

The number of Covid-19 cases in the Kingdom has surpassed 270,000, with over 2,800 deaths, one of the largest outbreaks in the Middle East.

They were given elaborate amenity kits that include sterilised pebbles for the stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks and a prayer rug, according to a Haj ministry document.

The Saudi ministry said foreign residents of the Kingdom from around 160 countries competed in the online selection process, but it did not say how many people applied.

reporters@khaleejtimes.com

Staff Reporter


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