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Hajj pilgrimage will be limited to 60,000 people from within Saudi Arabia due to Covid, kingdom says

Mecca will be off limits to the vast majority of Muslims this year, after Saudi Arabia announced that only a select few, all from within the country, would be allowed to participate in the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The religious ceremony, which begins in mid-July, will be limited to 60,000 pilgrims between the ages of 18 to 65 who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, the kingdom’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry said in a statement released on Saturday. All participants must either be citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia. 

The restrictions reflect Riyadh’s “constant concern for the safety and security of pilgrims, as well as the safety of their countries,” the ministry explained. 

All Muslims who can perform Hajj are required to do so at least once in their lifetime, and during a typical year, up to two million travel from around the world to partake in the religious event. The pilgrimage comprises a five-day series of rituals held around Mecca, the spiritual home of Islam, that are seen as a way to wipe away past sins. 

Last year, as few as 1,000 people already living in Saudi Arabia were given permission to make the pilgrimage, due to public health concerns related to the pandemic. 

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Saudi Arabia has taken a heavy-handed approach when it comes to containing the virus. Riyadh announced in May that citizens who refuse to receive a Covid vaccine will be prohibited from traveling abroad and participating in pilgrimages. Those who decline the jab will also be barred from entering shopping malls, office blocks, and universities. 

The kingdom began its vaccination program in December, with the Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca jabs being approved for use.So far, more than 15.4 million doses have been administered among its population of 30 million. 

Some 462,000 cases and 7,500 deaths have been recorded in the country since the start of the health crisis. 

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