RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Saturday it will permit one million Muslims from inside and outside the country to participate in this year’s Haj, a sharp uptick after pandemic restrictions forced two years of drastically pared-down pilgrimages.

However, the pilgrimage, which will take place in July, will be limited to Muslims under age 65 and fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the ministry of Haj and Umrah said in a statement carried by the SPA news agency.

Those coming from outside Saudi Arabia, who must apply for Haj visas, will this year also be required to submit a negative Covid-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of travel. Many Muslims outside the kingdom have been barred from making the trip since 2019.

About 2.5m people took part in 2019.

Pilgrims must be under age 65 and fully vaccinated against coronavirus

But after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Saudi authorities allowed only 1,000 pilgrims to participate. The following year, they upped the total to 60,000 fully vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents chosen through a lottery.

This year the Saudi Haj ministry “has authorised one million pilgrims, both foreign and domestic, to perform the Haj,” it said in a pre-dawn statement on Saturday.

The government wants to promote pilgrims’ safety “while ensuring that the maximum number of Muslims worldwide can perform the Haj”, the statement said.

Authorities took a number of special measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus last year, including dividing pilgrims into groups of 20 and handing out disinfectants, masks and sterilised pebbles for the “stoning of Satan” ritual.

But the relatively small crowds were distressing to Muslims abroad.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2022

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