As many as 10,000 Muslim pilgrims residing in Saudi Arabia will kick off the five-day annual Hajj pilgrimage on Tuesday amid safety protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.
But this year only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will participate in the ritual, a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world that attended last year.
“There are no security-related concerns in this pilgrimage, but (downsizing) is to protect pilgrims from the danger of the pandemic,” said Khalid bin Qarar Al-Harbi, Saudi Arabia’s director of public security.
Pilgrims will be required to wear masks and observe social distancing during a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in the holy city of Makkah and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia.
Those selected to take part in the Hajj were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began trickling into Makkah at the weekend.
State media showed health workers sanitising their luggage, and some pilgrims reported being given electronic wristbands to allow authorities to monitor their whereabouts.
Workers, clutching brooms and disinfectant, were seen cleaning the area around the Kaaba, the structure at the centre of the Grand Mosque draped in gold-embroidered cloth towards which Muslims around the world pray.
Hajj authorities have cordoned off the Kaaba this year, saying pilgrims will not be allowed to touch it, to limit the chances of infection.
They also reported setting up multiple health facilities, mobile clinics and ambulances to cater to the pilgrims.
The foreign press are barred from this year’s Hajj, usually a huge global media event, as the government tightens access to Mecca.