Covid-19: Foreign pilgrims will miss Haj this year too

Reuters
Reuters

Dubai - Only people aged between 18 and 65 who have been vaccinated or immunised against the virus.



By SM Ayaz Zakir

Published: Sun 13 Jun 2021, 12:31 AM

Saudi Arabia has restricted the annual Haj pilgrimage to its own citizens and residents for the second year running in response to the Covid pandemic, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Saturday.

Only people aged between 18 and 65 who have been vaccinated or immunised against the virus, and are free of chronic diseases, will be able to take part, the ministry that manages the pilgrimage said in a statement carried by SPA. It also set a maximum of 60,000 participants.

“The decision (was made) to guarantee the safety of the Haj amid uncertainty over the coronavirus,” the kingdom’s Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah said in a televised Press conference.

The announcement by the kingdom comes after it ran an incredibly pared-down pilgrimage last year due to the pandemic but still allowed a small number of the faithful to take part in the annual ceremony. Last year, as few as 1,000 people already residing in Saudi Arabia were selected to take part in the Haj.

The UAE has welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to limit registration for this year’s pilgrimage to citizens and residents of the kingdom in light of the pandemic.

Khalifa Shaheen Al Marar, the Minister of State, said the UAE welcomes the kingdom’s decision and supports all measures it takes as part of efforts to fight the pandemic, contain its spread and ensure the safety and security of the pilgrims and the community.

“The scientific achievements of Saudi Arabia recently testify to the importance the kingdom attaches to science as the key driver in supporting healthcare and overcoming the major challenges from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he added.

Many UAE expatriates, who’ve been planning for the pilgrimage for the past two years, have said they are disappointed. A few residents Khaleej Times spoke to said they hope they would be able to go next year at least.

Imran Akram, a 45-year-old sales manager and a resident of Deira, said that he had been constantly monitoring news for the last one and half year on Haj pilgrimage. “I had planned for Haj in the year 2019, but due to some emergency, I could not perform. Since then I have been waiting to perform Haj. But I am deeply saddened by the news. However, I hope I can make it next year.”

Imran’s younger brother Mohammed Asif Akram also expressed his disappointment. “Our parents are here and we were really hoping to take them for the pilgrimage. However, it is for the best, given the current situation,” he said.

Pakistani expat Emad Faris Khan, 38-year-old businessman residing in Fujairah, said he was very happy when Saudi Arabia opened the airspace for international travel last month. “I had applied for leave to perform Haj as I hoped that Saudi authorities may permit GCC residents to perform. This news has surely made many residents disappointed, however, I hope to go next year.”

Another expat Arafath Malpa working as a sales head at an Islamic Insurance firm had saved money for the Haj pilgrimage. “I have saved money to perform Haj this year, but after this decision from the Saudi Authorities, I believe I must wait for another year.”

ayaz@khaleejtimes.com


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