This is the second consecutive year that the Hajj pilgrimage is being held on a limited scale due to the prolonged coronavirus pandemic.
The annual pilgrimage rituals began on Saturday.
Last year, the Saudi government had allowed only 1,000 Saudi citizens to perform Hajj because vaccination had not started then while this year it has permitted 60,000 of its fully vaccinated nationals to make the annual rituals. Foreigners have been barred, this time too, in order to prevent the spread of the contagious Covid-19 disease. The Saudi government has announced that it is trying to leave nothing to chance and taking all possible precautionary measures in view of the super spreader nature of the disease and its various mutants, including the highly virulent Delta variant.
Around 2.5 million pilgrims from across the world usually perform Hajj every year. Last year’s Hajj was the smallest pilgrimage in modern history. Saudi officials say that like on the previous occasion, they have taken precautions at the highest level this time too. Pilgrims have been divided into groups of 20, allowing only four people to stay in one room, making it mandatory for the pilgrims to pack masks, sanitisers, hand wash and other such materials in their baggage, and social distancing will be strictly monitored. There will be contact-free access to hotels, holy sites and other places where pilgrims would need to go. All these measures have been taken to ensure the health safety of the pilgrims. Intending pilgrims suspected of suffering from Covid-19 will be shifted to isolation wards in medical facilities. Those who try to reach the holy sites unlawfully are liable to be arrested.
Pilgrims have been selected through an online system of vetting making it sure that those allowed to perform the annual rituals have taken the two prescribed doses of anti-coronavirus jab. Out of the total 34.7 million population of the kingdom, 20 million Saudis have so far received the vaccine. Around 50, 976 Saudis have contracted coronavirus. Of these, 8, 075 have died. In view of the tragic experience of a heavily populated country, the precautions being taken by the Saudi authorities are only meant to protect the health of the pilgrims.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2021.
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