Saudi Arabia has announced that this year’s hajj pilgrimage will be limited to 60,000 vaccinated people from within the kingdom because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The kingdom ran a reduced pilgrimage last year, but still allowed a small number of people to take part in the annual event.
A statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency on Saturday quoted the hajj and umrah ministry as saying this year’s hajj, which begins in mid-July, would be also limited to vaccinated people aged 18 to 65.
The hajj, a physically demanding and often costly pilgrimage that draws faithful Muslims from around the world, would normally draw as many as 2 million people. All able-bodied Muslims are required to perform it at least once in their lifetimes, and it is seen as a chance to wipe clean past sins and encourage greater humility and unity.
Only about 1,000 people resident in Saudi Arabia took part in last year’s hajj. Two-thirds were foreign residents from among the 160 different nationalities that would have normally been represented. The other third were Saudi security personnel and medical staff.
The kingdom’s ruling family stakes its legitimacy on overseeing and protecting the hajj sites and ensuring the pilgrimage happens every year.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is honoured to host pilgrims every year, confirms that this arrangement comes out of its constant concern for the health, safety and security of pilgrims as well as the safety of their countries,” the statement said.
Disease outbreaks have long been a concern surrounding the hajj. Pilgrims fought off a malaria outbreak in 632, cholera killed about 20,000 people in 1821 and another cholera outbreak killed 15,000 in 1865 before spreading worldwide.
Saudi Arabia more recently faced danger from a different coronavirus, one that causes the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers). The kingdom increased its public health measures during the hajj in 2012 and 2013, urging sick and the elderly people not to take part.
Saudi officials also instituted bans on pilgrims from countries affected by the Ebola virus in recent years.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the kingdom has reported more than 462,000 cases and 7,500 deaths. It has administered about 15.4 million vaccine doses, according to the World Health Organization. The kingdom is home to more than 30 million people.