Saudi Arabia Saturday barred foreign pilgrims from performing the Hajj once again this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It also restricted the annual pilgrimage to citizens and residents and set a maximum of 60,000 pilgrims.
“Those wishing to perform the hajj must be free of chronic diseases and be vaccinated” and between the ages of 18 and 65, the Saudi Arabia ministry said in a statement issued on Saturday.
The statement said that “In light of what the whole world is witnessing with the coronavirus pandemic and the emergence of new variants, the authorities have continued to monitor the global health situation.”
Last year, the kingdom had reduced the number of pilgrims to about 1,000 Saudi citizens and residents to help prevent the spread of the virus. However, it had barred Muslims abroad from the rite for the first time in modern times.
Two-thirds were residents from among the 160 different nationalities that would have normally been represented at the Hajj. One-third was Saudi security personnel and medical staff. This year the pilgrimage is expected to start in mid-July.
Major source of income
Hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, is a major source of income for the Saudi government.
Before the pandemic enforced social distancing globally, some 2.5 million pilgrims used to visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long Hajj, and the lesser, year-round Umrah pilgrimage, which altogether earned the kingdom about $12bn a year, according to official data.
The congregation of millions of pilgrims from around the world could be a major cause of coronavirus transmission.
Saudi Arabia has so far recorded more than 463,000 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 about 34 million.