‘Unprecedented’ Hajj begins begins amid Covid-19 restrictions

Muslim pilgrims have started the yearly hajj in the holy city of Mecca in a dramatically downsized version as Saudi Arabia, seek to stop any outbreaks of coronavirus during the five-day pilgrimage.

This year participation is being restricted to 10,000 people previously residing in the kingdom as the authorities attempt to control Covid-19. The disease has already infected more than 270,000 people in Saudi Arabia, placing it in the top 20 worst-affected countries.

“There are no security-related concerns in this pilgrimage, but [downsizing] is to protect pilgrims from the danger of the pandemic,” said Khalid bin Qarar al-Harbi, Saudi Arabia’s director of public security. The Holy Ka’bah, the most sacred site in Islam, will be cordoned off.

Pilgrims will be obliged to wear masks and keep social distancing during a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in Mecca and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia.

Those selected to take part in the hajj were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began trickling into Mecca at the weekend.

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