CAIRO: Saudi Arabia announced health protocols to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus during the 2020 Haj season, banning gatherings and meetings between pilgrims, the state news agency said on Monday.

In June, Saudi Arabia decided to limit the number of domestic pilgrims attending Haj to around 1,000 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first year in modern times.

Touching the Kaaba will be banned during Haj this year, and a social distancing space of a metre and a half between each pilgrim during the rituals including mass prayers and while in the Kaaba circling area will be imposed, a statement by the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control elaborated.

Also, access to Haj sites at Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat will be limited to those with Haj permits starting on July 19 till Aug 2, and wearing masks all the time will be mandatory for both pilgrims and organisers.

Banks in Pakistan are returning money to intending pilgrims

Kalbe Ali in Islamabad adds: In Pakistan, banks have started returning the amount deposited by intending pilgrims following restrictions announced by Saudi Arabia.

“All the amount was remitted back to relevant banks at the end of June and the banks have started to call the applicants from July 2,” said Mohammad Imran, a spokesman for the ministry of religious affairs.

In reply to a question, the official admitted that the process of returning the money is slow due to severe weather conditions in many parts of the country and limited working hours due to the Covid-19.

Pakistan against a quota of 179,210 pilgrims had allocated 107,526 seats under the government scheme and 71,684 under the private scheme.

However, due to the global lockdown only 150,000 applications were received for the government scheme. There was no application received under the private scheme.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2020