Saudi Arabia: Hajj Pilgrimage Resuming Pre-COVID Levels
After facing drastic restrictions due to the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has announced that the annual hajj pilgrimage will return this year to pre-pandemic levels and without any age restrictions. Allowing any hajj mission from countries around the world and permitting private companies to arrange the pilgrimage, this move follows a disastrous year in 2020 when fewer than 1,000 Saudis were allowed, due to safety concerns.
This religious event, which is a mandatory practice for all able-bodied Muslims, usually draws millions of people to Mecca. In 2019, the figure was greater than 2.4 million, while in 2021 it became 1 million, and now the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq bin Fawzan al-Rabiah has announced that this number will return to what it was pre-covid.
The hajj’s health risks are nothing new, with pilgrims having faced disease outbreaks such as malaria, cholera, and coronavirus in the past. In 2020, Saudi Arabia introduced life-saving public health measures to curb the pandemic, such as advising the poorly and elderly not to take part, as well as banning pilgrims from countries affected by Ebola.
It is unknown what additional precautions will be taken this year, though it is likely those attending the hajj will have to be vaccinated and possibly tested for Covid-19. The customary touching and kissing of the Kaaba has already been prohibited, and given the 2015 tragedy in which around 2,400 people died in a crush, crowd safety measures are also likely to be implemented.