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Video: Pilgrims arrive in Makkah for second Haj during Covid-19

AFP/Makkah
Filed on July 17, 2021 | Last updated on July 17, 2021 at 11.35 pm
Pilgrims arrive at the Kaaba at the Grand mosque in the holy city of Makkah, at the start of the Haj season on Saturday. — AFP

Saudi Arabia is allowing only 60,000 fully vaccinated residents to take part in this year's Haj


Pilgrims began arriving in the holy city of Makkah on Saturday for the second downsized Haj staged during the coronavirus pandemic, circling Islam’s holiest site in masks and on distanced paths.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is allowing only 60,000 fully vaccinated residents to take part, seeking to repeat last year’s success that saw no virus outbreak during the five-day ritual.

This year’s Haj, with participants chosen through a lottery, is larger than the pared-down version staged in 2020 but drastically smaller than in normal times, stoking resentment among Muslims abroad who are barred once again.

After being loaded on buses and brought to Makkah’s Grand Mosque, pilgrims began performing the “tawaf”, the circumambulation of the Kaaba.

Many carried umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching summer heat.

“Every three hours, 6,000 people enter to perform the tawaf of arrival,” Haj ministry spokesman Hisham Al Saeed said. “After each group leaves, a sterilisation process is carried out at the sanctuary.”

The Haj, usually one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings with some 2.5 million people taking part in 2019, is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.

It consists of a series of religious rites, formally starting on Sunday, which are completed over five days.

Among the chosen ones this year was Ameen, a 58-year-old Indian oil contractor based in the eastern city of Dammam, who was picked for the ritual along with his wife and three adult children.

“We are overjoyed,” said Ameen. “So many of our friends and relatives were rejected.”

“I feel like I won a lottery,” Egyptian pharmacist Mohammed El Eter said after being selected.

“This is a special, unforgettable moment in one’s life. I thank God for granting me this chance, to be accepted among a lot of people who applied,” the 31-year-old said.

Chosen from more than 558,000 applicants through an online vetting system, the event is confined to those who have been fully vaccinated and are aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses, according to the Haj ministry.

The ministry has said it is working on the “highest levels of health precautions” in light of the pandemic and the emergence of new variants.

Pilgrims will be divided into groups of just 20 “to restrict any exposure to only those 20, limiting the spread of infection”, ministry undersecretary Mohammad Al Bijawi told official media.

Saudi Arabia has so far recorded more than 507,000 coronavirus infections, including over 8,000 deaths.

Some 20 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country of over 34 million people.






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