Saudi Arabia has said it will allow one million people – from both inside and outside the kingdom – to perform the Hajj this year compared with only a few thousand local pilgrims over the past two years.
In increasing the numbers, the kingdom’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, would only be allowed for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and are under the age of 65.
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“It is of supreme importance to the government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to preserve the safety and security of Hajj pilgrims as well as visitors to the Prophet’s Mosque while ensuring that the maximum number of Muslims worldwide can perform Hajj and visit the Prophet’s Mosque in a safe and spiritual atmosphere,” the ministry said in a statement early on Saturday.
Pilgrims travelling from abroad will also need to have a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before their departure for Saudi Arabia, the statement said, while health precautions will be in place in Mecca to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and a once-in-a-lifetime duty for all able-bodied Muslims to perform if they can afford it. It is expected to take place in July this year with the numbers allowed from each country decided under a quota system.
Just a few thousand people were allowed to perform the pilgrimage in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and only 1,000 the year before that.
Before the virus emerged, some 2.5 million people would travel every year to Saudi Arabia for Hajj.