Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia sets COVID-19 protocols, restrictions for limited Hajj

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Saudi Arabia’s Center for Disease Prevention and Control issued on Sunday the coronavirus-related safety protocols and restrictions to be imposed during the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage season, state news agency SPA reported.

The Kingdom had announced on June 22 that it will allow a “limited” number of people to perform Hajj this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that those individuals will be of different nationalities but already residing in Saudi Arabia.

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Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime. Approximately, 2.5 million pilgrims typically visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long Hajj. This year’s Hajj is expected to start towards the end of July.

Saudi CDC’s precautionary measures include:

All pilgrims, employees in Holy sites and authorities organizing Hajj should wear masks at all times.

Thermal screening checkpoints should be setup at all entrances (whether for residence, bus waiting areas, or the Grand Mosque in Meeca).

Banning entry to the Holy sites of Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat without a Hajj permit from July 19 until August 2.

Group prayers (Jamaa’a) are allowed, given that worshippers wear face masks while prayer and maintain a physical distance of 1.5 to 2 meters between each two.

Read: Saudi Arabia’s coronavirus social distancing app ‘Tabaud’: All you need to know

Pilgrims are banned from crowding. Tents will be assigned to pilgrims to ensure that no more than 10 pilgrims occupy 50 square meters of space allocated for tents.

As for “stoning the devil” ritual on Jamarat, pilgrims will be provided with previously sterilized and packaged pebbles. Pilgrims will perform the stoning ritual in a staggered schedule such that only a group (maximum 50 people) can perform the ritual at the same time.

Pilgrims will be distributed to across all the stories of the Holy Mosque to perform Tawaf (circumambulation) around the Holy Kaaba in Mecca.

Touching or kissing the Holy Kaaba and the Black Stone is strictly forbidden.

Pilgrims are banned from sharing personal items such as towels, protective equipment, communication devices, clothes, shaving products and the like.

Each pilgrim will be assigned to a specific bus seat throughout the entire Hajj journey. Family members will be allowed to sit next each other depending upon availability. Each bus should operate at 50 percent capacity to ensure physical distancing and at least one empty seat should be left between every two pilgrims.

Barriers should be erected, and supervisors should be allocated to monitor adherence to measures.

Zamzam water and regular drinking water will be offered in single-use individual bottles. All water coolers which previously worshippers could access in the two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medica have been either removed or disabled.

Cleaners clean a Zamzam water point, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, at the Grand mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia March 3, 2020. (Reuters)
Cleaners clean a Zamzam water point, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, at the Grand mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia March 3, 2020. (Reuters)

Pre-packaged meals will be offered to pilgrims.

Pilgrims who are suspected of being infected with coronavirus, will be allowed to continue the rest of the rituals given that they get an assessment from a specialized doctor. The individual will then be placed with a group of other suspected cases of COVID-19 during Hajj. They will also reside in separate accommodations from the other pilgrims and will take different transportation methods and travel routes to continue Hajj rituals.

Other coronavirus precautionary measures previously announced regarding travel, residence, prayer in mosques in the Kingdom, hygiene rule for women's salons and men's barbershops, serving food and beverages and drinks, constantly washing hands adequately and using sanitizers, etc, all apply.

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