DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that the Hajj pilgrimage will not affect more than 60,000 people, all from within the kingdom, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement by the kingdom comes after it had an incredibly reduced pilgrimage over the virus last year, but still allowed a small number of believers to participate in the annual ceremony.
In a statement on the state-run Saudi press agency, the Hajj and Umrah ministry of the kingdom is quoted. It is said that the Hajj, which starts in mid-July, will be limited to the ages of 18 to 65 this year.
Those who participate must also be vaccinated, the ministry said.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is honored every year to house pilgrims, confirms that this arrangement stems from its continuing concern for the health, safety and security of pilgrims as well as the safety of their countries,” the statement said.
In Hajj last year, only 1,000 people living in Saudi Arabia were selected to participate. Two-thirds were foreign residents from the 160 different nationalities that would normally be with the Hajj. A third were Saudi security personnel and medical personnel.
Every year, up to 2 million Muslims perform the Hajj, a physically demanding and often expensive pilgrimage that draws faithful people from all over the world. The Hajj, which is required of all bodily Muslims to act once in their lives, is seen as an opportunity to erase clean sins from the past and bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims.
The ruling Al Saud family of the kingdom assigns its legitimacy in this oil-rich nation to oversee and protect the Hajj sites. Ensuring that the Hajj takes place was a priority for them.
Disease outbreaks have always been a concern around the Hajj. Pilgrims fought a malaria outbreak in 632, cholera in 1821 killed an estimated 20,000, and another cholera outbreak in 1865 killed 15,000 before spreading worldwide.
More recently, Saudi Arabia was threatened by another coronavirus, one that causes MID respiratory syndrome. In 2012 and 2013, the kingdom increased its social health measures during the Hajj and encouraged the sick and elderly not to participate.
In recent years, Saudi officials have also banned pilgrims from countries affected by the Ebola virus.
Saudi Arabia has been closing its borders for months to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Since the onset of the pandemic, the kingdom has reported more than 462,000 cases of the virus with 7,500 deaths. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered. The kingdom houses more than 30 million people.