Saudi Arabia announced health protocols to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in the 2020 hajj season. It has also banned gatherings and meetings between pilgrims, the state news agency said on Monday.
Saudi Arabia decided in June to limit the number of domestic pilgrims attending the hajj to around 1,000 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It also barred Muslims abroad from the rite for the first year in modern times.
Touching the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam is banned during the hajj this year. Meanwhile, a social distancing space of a meter and a half between each pilgrim during the rituals will be imposed. The rituals also include mass prayers and while in the Kaaba circling area. The Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) said in a statement.
Also, access to holy hajj sites at Mina, Muzdalifah, and Arafat will be limited to those with hajj permits starting Sunday, July 19 till August 2, 2020, and wearing masks all the time will be mandatory for both pilgrims and organizers.
Hajj is due to start by the end of July. Strict health criteria will be used to select eligible pilgrims among citizens and residents. Those above 65 years old will not be allowed to attend the annual pilgrimage.
Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim. Some 2.5 million pilgrims typically visit the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Madina for the week-long hajj.
Official data shows Saudi Arabia earns around $12 billion a year from the haj and the lesser, year-round pilgrimage known as umrah, which remains suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is keen to enable all Muslims of different nationalities to perform haj but the global health circumstances this year led us to make this haj an exception,” Hajj Minister Mohammed Benten earlier had told the news briefing.
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