Saudi Arabia on Monday announced that this year’s Hajj pilgrimage will begin on July 29, AFP reported. In June, the kingdom had announced it would hold a “very limited” Hajj this time to include only around 1,000 Muslim pilgrims, to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“The stand of pilgrims on Mount Arafat, the peak of the Hajj ritual, falls on Thursday [July 30],” the kingdom’s Supreme Court said, indicating that July 29 would be the first day of the annual event.

The timing of the Hajj is determined by the position of the moon, in accordance with the Islamic lunar calendar. Over 25 lakh people usually participate in the ritual of several days, which is centred around the holy city of Mecca.

India had last month announced that Indian pilgrims will not go for the Hajj pilgrimage this year because of the pandemic. Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had said that Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah minister Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten spoke to him over the phone and suggested that Indian pilgrims should not be sent for the pilgrimage. Naqvi had added that the application money of more than 2.3 lakh pilgrims will be returned without cancellation deductions through direct transfer.

Health measures for domestic pilgrims

This year’s Hajj will be held under strict hygiene protocols, with access limited to pilgrims under 65 years old and without any chronic medical conditions. The ritual has been restricted to medical professionals and security personnel who have recovered from the virus, Al Jazeera reported, citing the Saudi Ministry of Hajj. Those taking part will be tested for coronavirus before arriving in Mecca and are required to quarantine at home after the ritual.

The pilgrimage will be restricted to 1,000 people who are already in the kingdom – both foreigners and citizens. The decision to exclude pilgrims arriving from outside Saudi Arabia is a first in the kingdom’s modern history.

The Saudi Ministry of Hajj said the decision to curtail the pilgrimage was aimed at preserving global public health because of the risks associated with large gatherings. The Saudi-based Muslim World League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have backed the government’s move for the health and safety of pilgrims.

Saudi Arabia on Monday reported 2,429 new coronavirus cases, taking the total infections in the kingdom to 2,53,349, The Gulf News reported. The toll stood at 2,523.

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