Saudi Arabia Gears Up for Downsized Hajj as Covid-19 Pandemic Bars Hundreds of thousands from Attending Pilgrimage


Saudi Arabia on Wednesday begins internet hosting the annual hajj pilgrimage, dramatically downscaled as a result of coronavirus pandemic that has barred hundreds of thousands of worldwide pilgrims for the primary time in trendy historical past. As much as […]

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday begins internet hosting the annual hajj pilgrimage, dramatically downscaled as a result of coronavirus pandemic that has barred hundreds of thousands of worldwide pilgrims for the primary time in trendy historical past.

As much as 10,000 folks residing within the kingdom will take part within the Muslim ritual, a tiny fraction of the two.5 million that attended final 12 months, after what many noticed as an opaque choice course of that left a wave of candidates rejected.

The international press are barred from this 12 months’s hajj, often an enormous world media occasion, as the federal government tightens entry to the holy metropolis of Mecca and places in place strict well being restrictions to forestall a virus outbreak throughout the five-day pilgrimage — a key pillar of Islam.

Saudi Arabia has recorded greater than 260,000 instances of the novel coronavirus, whereas the variety of declared world infections exceeded 16 million on Sunday.

Masks-clad pilgrims started trickling into Mecca over the weekend and had been topic to temperature checks and positioned in quarantine, authorities stated.

They got elaborate amenity kits that embody sterilised pebbles for a stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks, a prayer rug and the ihram, a seamless white garment worn by pilgrims, in accordance with a hajj ministry programme doc.

Pilgrims are required to be examined for coronavirus earlier than arriving in Mecca and also will should quarantine after the pilgrimage.

The ministry stated it has arrange a number of well being services, cellular clinics and ambulances to cater to the pilgrims, who can be required to look at social distancing.

– ‘Golden ticket’ -

Saudi authorities initially stated solely round 1,000 pilgrims residing within the kingdom can be permitted for hajj however native media experiences say as many as 10,000 can be allowed.

The hajj ministry has fielded a deluge of anguished queries on Twitter from rejected candidates.

However Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten insisted the method was clear, telling the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya tv that “well being determinants” shaped the idea of choice.

The ministry stated non-Saudi residents of the dominion from round 160 nations competed within the on-line choice course of.

It stated international residents would make up 70 p.c of all chosen pilgrims.

Nevertheless it didn’t clarify what number of utilized, and a few dissatisfied pilgrims have complained that the government-run lottery was not clearly outlined and say no purpose was given for his or her rejection.

Among the many chosen few is Nasser, a Riyadh-based Nigerian expatriate, euphoric at profitable what he known as the “golden ticket” to hajj.

“This sense can’t be described,” he advised AFP earlier than his arrival in Mecca.

The ministry has stated the Saudi pilgrims had been chosen from a pool of well being practitioners and army personnel who’ve recovered from COVID-19.

To be among the many chosen ones provides an aura of non secular status to this 12 months’s pilgrimage, candidates say.

Regardless of the pandemic, many pilgrims contemplate it’s safer to take part on this 12 months’s ritual with out the standard colossal crowds cramming into tiny non secular websites, which make it a logistical nightmare and a well being hazard.

Even in a daily 12 months, the hajj leaves pilgrims uncovered to a bunch of viral diseases.

– ‘Substantial value’ -

The federal government scaled again the pilgrimage because it may very well be a significant supply of contagion, however the transfer will deepen the dominion’s financial hunch, analysts say.

It comes as Saudi Arabia faces a pointy downturn in oil costs as a result of a collapse in world demand pushed by nationwide lockdowns, which triggered austerity measures together with the tripling of a price added tax and cuts to civil servants’ allowances.

The virus has additionally battered pilgrimage-reliant companies that assist tons of of 1000’s of jobs in Mecca, from journey brokers to road barbers and memento retailers.

Many have reported sweeping layoffs, pay cuts or delayed salaries.

Mecca has seen a development increase in recent times that added buying malls, flats and luxurious motels, some providing spectacular views of the sacred Kaaba, a cube-shaped construction within the Grand Mosque in direction of which Muslims all over the world pray.

However most premises have lain empty because the pandemic reached the dominion.

Saudi authorities had already in March suspended the umrah pilgrimage, which will be carried out at any time.

The pilgrimages collectively rake in some $12 billion (10.three billion euros) yearly, retaining the financial system buzzing in Mecca.

“Limiting this 12 months’s hajj to Saudi residents comes at a considerable however surmountable value to the financial system,” the Eurasia Group’s Sofia Meranto advised AFP.

“In opposition to the backdrop of day by day an infection charges nonetheless (remaining) excessive, the federal government is prioritising healthcare… over short-term financial prices, hoping to recoup misplaced income by subsequent hajj season or by resuming umrah earlier.”

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