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Hajj to return to pre-COVID numbers, Saudi Arabia officials say | Coronavirus pandemic News

Through the pandemic in 2020, solely about 1,000 residents had been allowed to carry out the Muslim pilgrimage.

Islam’s annual Hajj pilgrimage will return to pre-pandemic ranges this yr after restrictions noticed the annual spiritual commemoration curtailed over coronavirus issues, Saudi authorities say.

The Hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims as soon as of their life, represents one of many world’s largest gatherings of individuals. Earlier than the pandemic, the pilgrimage drew tens of millions annually to Islam’s holy metropolis of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, dwelling to the cube-shaped Kaaba that observant Muslims pray in direction of 5 occasions a day.

“I carry you two bits of excellent information on this assembly. The primary: the return of the numbers of pilgrims to what they had been earlier than the pandemic with none age restrictions,” Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq bin Fawzan al-Rabiah mentioned on Monday night, in accordance with the state-run Saudi Press Company.

“And the second: permitting any Hajj mission from world wide to take care of any licensed firm that meets the necessities of the pilgrims of these international locations,” he added.

A long exposure photograph shows Muslim pilgrims circumambulating around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand mosque in the holy Saudi city of Mecca during the annual hajj pilgrimage, on July 17, 2021.
The Hajj is a primary financial driver for Saudi Arabia, bringing billions of {dollars} of non-oil income to the nation [File: Fayez Nureldine/AFP]

In 2019, greater than 2.4 million folks took half within the pilgrimage. Nonetheless, in 2020, amid the coronavirus lockdowns, the Gulf nation drastically curtailed the Hajj with as few as 1,000 residents of Saudi Arabia permitted to participate. It was an unprecedented transfer unseen even through the 1918 flu epidemic that killed tens of tens of millions worldwide.

In 2021, some 60,000 residents of Saudi Arabia carried out the pilgrimage. Final yr, practically 900,000 pilgrims had been welcomed to Islam’s holiest cities of Mecca and Medina for the pilgrimage.

Nonetheless, solely these aged under 65 with vaccination towards the coronavirus and a unfavourable check might enter the nation.

Illness outbreaks have at all times been a priority surrounding the Hajj. Pilgrims fought off a malaria outbreak in 632, cholera in 1821 killed an estimated 20,000, and one other cholera outbreak in 1865 killed 15,000 earlier than spreading worldwide.

Extra just lately, Saudi Arabia confronted hazard from a special coronavirus, one which causes Center East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. The dominion elevated its public well being measures through the Hajj in 2012 and 2013, urging the sick and the aged not to participate.

It was not instantly clear what well being precautions can be taken for the Hajj, which falls in accordance with the lunar-based Islamic calendar this yr on the finish of June. Whereas Saudi Arabia has no requirement for coronavirus vaccines or testing, it does require pilgrims to be vaccinated for different maladies.

The pilgrimage is a primary financial driver for the oil-rich nation, bringing billions of {dollars} of non-oil income to the dominion.

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