Saudi Arabia says COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for Hajj 2021

Saudi health ministry said having a coronavirus vaccine is a must in order to participate in this year’s Hajj.

Hundreds of Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, as they keep social distance to protect themselves from the coronavirus [File: AP]

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry says only people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to attend the Hajj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is mandatory for those willing to come to the Hajj and will be one of the main conditions (for receiving a permit to come),” Monday’s report said, citing a circular signed by the health minister.

Saudi Arabia takes pride in its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and its smooth organisation of the annual Hajj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.

In 2020, the kingdom dramatically reduced the number of pilgrims allowed to attend Hajj to about 1,000 Saudi citizens and residents of the kingdom, in order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first time in modern times.

Muslim pilgrims pray near the Mercy mountain in Arafat as they distance themselves to protect against coronavirus during the annual hajj pilgrimage near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday,
Physically distanced Muslim pilgrims pray near the Mountain of Mercy in Arafat during the annual Hajj pilgrimage near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia on July 30, 2020 [File: AP]

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.

The congregation of millions of pilgrims from around the world can be a major cause of coronavirus transmission. In the past, worshippers have returned home with respiratory and other diseases.

In the same circular, Saudi Minister of Health Dr Tawfiq al-Rabiah said the government must be prepared to “secure the manpower required to operate the health facilities in Mecca and Medina”.

These facilities will be stationed at entry points for pilgrims, he said, in addition to a formation of a vaccination committee for pilgrims within Saudi Arabia.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies