Saudi Arabia to host pre-pandemic numbers for 2023 Hajj pilgrimage season

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Saudi Arabia will remove COVID-19 restrictions for the 2023 Hajj season and host pre-pandemic numbers of pilgrims, the Kingdom's ministry of Hajj and umrah said on Monday.

In 2019, the last year before the pandemic struck, some 2.6 million people performed the Hajj. The Kingdom allowed only limited numbers from its residents in 2020 and 2021 before it welcomed back one million foreign pilgrims in 2022.

The ministry of Hajj said in a Tweet that the Kingdom, home to Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, will impose no restrictions, including age limits, for this season.

Access was restricted in 2022 to pilgrims aged 18 to 65 who have been fully vaccinated or immunized against the coronavirus and did not suffer from chronic diseases.

Hajj season is expected to begin on June 26 in 2023.

Over the years, the Kingdom has spent billions of dollars on making one of the world's biggest religious gatherings more secure.

Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

An economic reform plan of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to increase umrah and Hajj capacity to 30 million pilgrims annually.

About 19 million also took part annually in the umrah, another form of pilgrimage to Mecca which - unlike the Hajj - can be carried out at any time of the year, before the pandemic.

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