Saudi Arabia announced Saturday it will allow 60,000 vaccinated residents of the kingdom to perform the annual hajj

The hajj ministry said this yearā€™s pilgrimage would be ā€œopen for nationals and residents of the kingdom, limited to 60,000 pilgrimsā€, according to the officialĀ SaudiĀ Press Agency.

The pilgrimage, scheduled to be held at the end of July, would be limited to those who have been vaccinated and are below 65 years of age with no chronic illnesses, it said.

It will be the second year in a row that the kingdom hosts a downscaled hajj amid the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The hajj ā€” a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime ā€” typically packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites and could be a major source of contagion.

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

In a relaxation of coronavirus curbs last October,Ā SaudiĀ Arabia opened the Grand Mosque for prayers for the first time in seven months and partially resumed the all-year-round umrah pilgrimage.

The limit on umrah pilgrims is 20,000 a day, with a total of 60,000 worshippers allowed to perform daily prayers at the mosque.

The umrah usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year. Authorities said the umrah would be allowed to return to full capacity once the threat of the pandemic has abated.

The revered Black StoneĀ in the Kaaba ā€” which is customary but not mandatory to touch during the pilgrimage ā€” remains out of reach.

ā€“ ā€˜Highest precautionsā€™ ā€“

ā€œIn light of what the whole world is witnessing with the coronavirus pandemicā€¦ and the emergence of new variants, the relevant authorities have continued to monitor the global health situation,ā€ the hajj ministry said Saturday.

ā€œConsidering the large crowds that perform hajj, spending long periods of time in multiple and specific placesā€¦ required the highest levels of health precautions,ā€ it added in the statement carried by SPA.

A scaled-down hajj represents a major loss of revenue for the kingdom, already reeling from the twin shocks of the virus-induced slowdown and a plunge in oil prices.

The hajj and the year-round umrah pilgrimages together rake in some $12 billion (10.3 billion euros) annually.

Last year, the foreign press were barred from the hajj, usually a huge global media event.

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

The health ministry says it has administered more than 15 million coronavirus vaccine doses, in a country with a population of over 34 million.

Hosting the hajj is a matter of prestige forĀ SaudiĀ rulers, for whom the custodianship of Islamā€™s holiest sites is their most powerful source of political legitimacy.

But a series of deadly disasters over the years, including a 2015 stampede that killed up to 2,300 worshippers, has prompted criticism of the kingdomā€™s management of the pilgrimage.

AFP

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