Saudi Arabia says only about 1,000 pilgrims will be allowed to take part in the Hajj pilgrimage this year due to the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
According to Saudi authorities the annual Muslim ritual — which normally attracts 2.5 million— will start on July 29.
“The stand of pilgrims on Mount Arafat, the peak of the Hajj ritual, falls on Thursday,” the official Saudi Press Agency cited the Supreme Court as saying, indicating that Wednesday would be the first day of the yearly event.
This year’s Hajj will be limited to pilgrims under 65 years old and without any chronic illnesses. The Saudi Hajj Ministry also said only medical professionals and security personnel, who have recovered from the virus, will be allowed to attend.
The event is restricted to only 1,000 foreign and Saudi nationals who already reside in the kingdom, according to Hajj officials, but some media reports suggest some 10,000 people may be able to participate in the religious ceremony.
Pilgrims taking part will be tested for coronavirus before arriving in the holy city of Mecca and are required to quarantine at home after the ritual, according to health officials.
Saudi Arabia has so far recorded some 253,349 cases of infection with the new coronavirus, including 2,523 deaths – the highest toll among the Persian Gulf Arab states.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia suspended the smaller year-round Umrah pilgrimage, a lesser pilgrimage compared to the annual Hajj, addressing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
Hosting the two Muslim religious rituals is of both economic and political importance for Saudi Arabia.
According to government figures, the Hajj and Umrah rituals add $12 billion to the Saudi economy every year.
The decision for a scaled-down Hajj and to exclude foreign pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia — a first in the kingdom’s modern history — will entail a major loss of revenue for the country that is already grappling with virus-induced slowdown and a plunge in oil prices.
The Saudi-based Muslim World League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have backed the government’s move for the health and safety of pilgrims.