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Saudi Arabia to allow 1 million pilgrims to Mecca

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Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that it would allow one million Muslims, from Saudi Arabia and from around the world, to participate in the hajj pilgrimage this year, a figure up sharply from previous years, marked by the coronavirus outbreak. However, several health conditions will have to be met.

This is great news for the Muslim world. After two complicated years due to the coronavirus, Mecca will once again be able to welcome its pilgrims. The Ministry of Hajj, an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, “has authorized one million pilgrims, foreign or domestic, to perform the hajj this year,” he said in a statement.

The government wants to ensure the safety of pilgrims “while ensuring that as many Muslims around the world as possible can perform the hajj”, the statement continued.

Several health conditions to be met

One of the five pillars of Islam, the hajj must be performed by all Muslims who can afford it at least once in their lifetime. Usually one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, around 2.5 million people attended in 2019. After the pandemic began in 2020, Saudi authorities only allowed 1,000 pilgrims to attend. The following year, they allowed 60,000 fully vaccinated residents chosen by lottery.

These restrictions fueled resentment among Muslims abroad who were not allowed to participate. According to the announcement on Saturday, this year’s hajj will be limited to vaccinated pilgrims under the age of 65. Those coming from outside Saudi Arabia will need to present a negative PCR test less than 72 hours old.

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An important source of income for Saudi Arabia

The hajj is a series of religious rites performed over five days in Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia. Hosting the hajj is a matter of prestige for Saudi leaders, with responsibility for Islam’s holiest sites underpinning their political legitimacy.

Before the pandemic, the pilgrimage was a key source of income for the kingdom, bringing in some $12 billion a year. The kingdom of around 34 million people has recorded more than 751,000 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and 9,055 deaths, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

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In early March, he announced the lifting of most Covid-related restrictions, including social distancing in public places and quarantine for vaccinated arrivals, while masks are now only compulsory in closed places.

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