Saudi Arabia gears up for downsized Haj

Saudi Arabia, Haj, downscaled
Saudi security officers check the identification cards of people entering the holy city of Makkah ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage.

Holy city of Makkah - Pilgrims are required to be tested for coronavirus before arriving in Makkah and will also have to quarantine after the pilgrimage



By AFP

Published: Mon 27 Jul 2020, 12:47 PM

Last updated: Tue 25 Aug 2020, 4:08 PM

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday begins hosting the annual Haj pilgrimage, downscaled due to the coronavirus pandemic that has barred millions of international pilgrims for the first time in modern history.
Up to 10,000 people residing in the kingdom will participate in the Haj, a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million that attended last year.
Mask-clad pilgrims began trickling into the holy city of 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, a seamless white garment worn by pilgrims, according to a Haj ministry programme document.
Pilgrims are required to be tested for coronavirus before arriving in Mecca and will also have to quarantine after the pilgrimage.
The 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.
Saudi authorities initially said only around 1,000 pilgrims residing in the kingdom would be permitted for Haj but local media reports say as many as 10,000 will be allowed.
Haj Minister Mohammad Benten said the Haj application selection process was transparent, telling the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television that "health determinants" formed the basis of selection.
The ministry said non-Saudi residents of the kingdom from around 160 countries competed in the online selection process.
It said foreign residents would make up 70 per cent of all selected pilgrims.
Among the chosen few is Nasser, a Riyadh-based Nigerian expatriate, euphoric at winning what he called the "golden ticket" to Haj.
"This feeling cannot be described," he said before his arrival in Makkah.
The ministry has said the Saudi pilgrims were selected from a pool of health practitioners and military personnel who have recovered from Covid-19.
Despite the pandemic, many pilgrims consider it is safer to participate in this year's ritual without the usual colossal crowds cramming into tiny religious sites, which make it a logistical nightmare and a health hazard.
Saudi authorities had already in March suspended the umrah pilgrimage, which can be performed at any time.


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