Saudi Arabia gears up for downsized hajj
MAKKAH, July 27: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday begins hosting the annual hajj pilgrimage, dramatically downscaled due to the coronavirus pandemic that has barred millions of international pilgrims for the first time in modern history.
Up to 10,000 people residing in the kingdom will participate in the Muslim ritual, a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million that attended last year, after what many saw as an opaque selection process that left a wave of applicants rejected.
The foreign press are barred from this year's hajj, usually a huge global media event, as the government tightens access to the holy city of Makkah and puts in place strict health restrictions to prevent a virus outbreak during the five-day pilgrimage -- a key pillar of Islam.
Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 260,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, while the number of declared global infections exceeded 16 million on Sunday.
Mask-clad pilgrims began trickling into Makkah over the weekend and were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine, authorities said.
They were given elaborate amenity kits that include sterilised pebbles for a stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks, a prayer rug and the ihram, a seamless white garment worn by pilgrims, according to a hajj ministry programme document. Pilgrims are required to be tested for coronavirus before arriving in Makkah and will also have to quarantine after the pilgrimage. -AFP