Saudi Arabia only allowing 'very limited numbers' to perform Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca

22 June 2020, 20:54

Social distancing during prayer for only few people around the Kaaba inside Mecca's Grand Mosque
Social distancing during prayer for only few people around the Kaaba inside Mecca's Grand Mosque. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Only "very limited numbers" of people will be allowed to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca because of coronavirus, Saudi Arabia has said.

The Islamic pilgrimage traditionally draws about two million people from around the world but will only be open to those already residing in Saudi Arabia this July amid the pandemic.

The government did not specify how many people would be permitted to take part.

The kingdom's Ministry of Hajj said its decision to drastically limit the number of pilgrims was made due to the lack of an available vaccine for the virus or a cure for those infected, as well as the risks associated with large gatherings of people.

"This decision was taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective," the government statement said.

All able-bodied Muslims are required to perform the Hajj pilgrimage once in their lifetime.

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It centres around five intense days of worship and rituals in Mecca, however pilgrims typically begin arriving to Saudi Arabia through its main gateway city of Jeddah weeks and even months in advance.

The kingdom has one of the highest rates of coronavirus infections in the Middle East, with more than 161,000 total confirmed cases and 1,307 deaths.

Saudi Arabia had already suspended the smaller year-round umrah pilgrimage earlier this year and closed the Grand Mosque in Mecca, home to Islam's holiest site, to the public.

The city of Mecca was also under a strict lockdown for around two months.

Although Saudi Arabia has lifted some restrictions in recent days around the country, the umrah continues to be suspended and its borders remain shut to visitors and tourists.

Indonesia and Malaysia, which combined send around a 250,000 Muslims to the Hajj each year, had already announced they would not be sending their citizens to the pilgrimage this year.