Saudi Arabia bans foreign travelers from visiting Haj due to COVID-19

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DUBAI: Saudi Arabia has limited the annual Haj pilgrimage to citizens and residents and set a maximum of 60,000 pilgrims in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision was announced Saturday, June 12 by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in a statement released by state media.

The pilgrimage, which should be held at the end of July, would be limited to those vaccinated and aged under 65 without chronic disease, he said.

This will be the second year in a row that the kingdom has hosted a scaled-down Haj amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Haj – a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime – typically brings together millions of pilgrims to crowded religious sites and could be a major source of contagion.

Only up to 10,000 Muslims participated last year, a far cry from the 2.5 million who took part in the annual five-day pilgrimage in 2019.

In an easing of the coronavirus brakes last October, Saudi Arabia opened the Grand Mosque for prayer for the first time in seven months and partially resumed the Umrah pilgrimage throughout the year.

The limit for Umrah pilgrims is 20,000 per day, with a total of 60,000 worshipers allowed to perform daily prayers at the mosque.

Umrah generally attracts millions of Muslims from all over the world every year. Authorities said Umrah would be allowed to resume full capacity once the threat of the pandemic subsides.

The venerated Kaaba black stone – which is customary but not obligatory to touch during the pilgrimage – remains out of reach.

“THE HIGHEST PRECAUTIONS”

“In light of what the whole world is witnessing with the coronavirus pandemic (…) and the emergence of new variants, the competent authorities have continued to monitor the global health situation,” the Haj ministry said on Saturday.

“Considering the large crowds performing the Haj, spending long periods of time in multiple and specific locations … required the highest levels of health precautions,” he added in the press release. Saudi Arabian.

A reduced Haj represents a major loss of revenue for the kingdom, already reeling from the double shock of the virus-induced slowdown and falling oil prices.

The Haj and Umrah pilgrimages all year round together bring in some $ 12 billion a year.

Last year the foreign press was banned from the Haj, usually a huge global media event.

Saudi Arabia has so far recorded more than 460,000 coronavirus infections, including 7,536 deaths.

The Ministry of Health claims to have administered more than 15 million doses of vaccine against the coronavirus, in a country of more than 34 million inhabitants.

Hosting the Haj is a matter of prestige for Saudi rulers, for whom custody of Islam’s holiest sites is their most powerful source of political legitimacy.

But a series of deadly disasters over the years, including a stampede in 2015 that killed up to 2,300 worshipers, has drawn criticism over the kingdom’s handling of the pilgrimage.

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