Saudi Arabia has banned gatherings and meetings during the Hajj this year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as authorities in the kingdom announced health protocols for the annual pilgrimage.
The kingdom decided in June to limit the number of domestic pilgrims attending the Hajj to about 1,000 because of the pandemic and barred Muslims abroad from the pilgrimage for the first time in modern era.
Touching the Kaaba will be banned during the Hajj this year, and pilgrims will have to keep a minimum distance of one and a half metres from one another during the rituals including mass prayers and while performing tawaf (walk around the Kaaba seven times), a statement by the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said.
Starting from July 19 until August 2, 2020 access to Hajj sites at Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat will be limited to those with Hajj permits, and wearing masks will be mandatory for pilgrims and organisers, according to the state news agency.
The World Health Organisation has backed the decision of Saudi Arabia to drastically limit this year’s Hajj pilgrimage.
WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said there were major questions about how to hold large gatherings safely as countries start to ease some restrictions.
“This [decision] is another example of the hard choices that all countries must make to put health first,” the director general said.
“We understand that it was not an easy decision to make. And we also understand it is a major disappointment for many Muslims who are looking forward to making their pilgrimage this year,” Mr Tedros said.
“This decision was made based on a risk assessment and analysis of different scenarios in accordance with WHO’s guidance to protect the safety of pilgrims and minimise the risk of transmission. WHO supports this decision.”