Saudi Arabia welcomed on Friday the first group of Hajj pilgrims, selected based on specific requirements, amid strict coronavirus preventative measures.
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Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kingdom has only allowed those living in the country and who meet certain criteria to participate in this year’s Hajj pilgrimage, which is one of the five pillars of Islam and required for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime.
Those who managed to secure a spot were randomly selected through an automated raffle system, with no human involvement, according to the Minister of Hajj and Umrah.
“[Those] who will perform Hajj this year, God selected out of millions to perform the Hajj rituals,” Minister Dr. Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Banten told Al Arabiya. “This selection was not a human selection, but it was a godly selection to choose this person to be one of the limited number of people to perform Hajj.”
Upon their arrival in King Abdulaziz International Airport, the pilgrims went through a screening process before being transferred via buses to a designated hotel where they will quarantine for eight days until the start of the Hajj processions on July 29.
Masks are required at all times and temperature checks were mandatory at the hotel entrance, where the pilgrims lined up while maintaining a safe distance waiting their turns to enter.
The hotel, located in Mecca, is near the assembly meeting point that has been determined by the health ministry as the place where pilgrims will gather daily to be transported to the city’s holy sites starting on the first day of Hajj.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has implemented strict precautionary measures at the hotel to maintain the safety of the pilgrims including providing a separate room and hand sanitizers for each person, as well as enforcing social distancing rules.
Participants were required to isolate at home for seven days prior to arriving in Mecca, as part of the requirements to participate in the pilgrimage.
Those who live close enough to Mecca are not required to stay in the hotel but must remain isolated in their homes until the first day of Hajj as well.
Meanwhile, individuals who were infected with the virus, but have recovered, do not need to quarantine and will arrive in Mecca on a later date, closer to the first day of Hajj.
In February, authorities in Saudi Arabia suspended entry for individuals going on the Umrah pilgrimage due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. In June, Kingdom authorities decided to allow a “limited Hajj” of about 1,000 people to take place.
Those selected are all residents in Saudi Arabia and are between 20 and 50 years old, according to the criteria required by authorities.
Priority was given to non-Saudis who do not have any pre-existing health conditions and have not previously performed the Hajj pilgrimage.
Only Saudi nationals who are healthcare workers or security forces and have recovered from the virus were also given a chance to perform Hajj this year as a way of showing appreciation for their efforts in fighting the COVID-19 crisis in the country.