Scaled back Hajj pilgrimage begins amid Saudi restrictions

Scaled back Hajj pilgrimage begins amid Saudi restrictions

The annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage has begun with only a small number of worshipers this year, as Saudi Arabia has barred international pilgrims from entering the kingdom due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Only some 10,000 worshipers will attend the Hajj this year due to crowd control restrictions put in place by Riyadh to curb the pandemic.

Some 70 percent of the pilgrims are foreigners residing in the kingdom, and the rest are Saudi citizens, authorities said.

According to the Saudi Hajj Ministry, foreigners residing in the kingdom from around 160 countries competed in an online selection process to attend the pilgrimage.

Some disappointed applicants, however, said that the government-run lottery was not clearly outlined and that no reason was given for their rejection.

Every year before the pandemic, more than two million people attend the holy sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina during the pilgrimage.

Those allowed to attend this year’s Hajj need to be tested for the coronavirus disease before arriving in Mecca. They will also have to quarantine after the pilgrimage.

According to a Hajj Ministry program document, worshipers will be provided with elaborate amenity kits that include sterilized pebbles for a stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks, a prayer rug, and the ihram, a seamless white garment worn by pilgrims.

“Hajj in 2020 is a truly exceptional pilgrimage by all measures,” said the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten.

Saudi Arabia has one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the Middle East, with almost 270,000 confirmed cases and 2,700 deaths.

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