Mecca preparing for downsized Hajj due to coronavirus

Riyadh, Jul 28 (efe-epa).- A little over 1,000 residents of Saudi Arabia are awaiting the start on Wednesday of rituals as part of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, which this year have been drastically downsized due to strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Saudi authorities have limited the pilgrimage to just over 1,000  Muslims – compared to over two million last year – 30 percent of whom are Saudis, while the rest are from 160 nationalities living in the kingdom.

Only Saudi healthcare professionals will be allowed to take part in the rituals in recognition for their role fighting the COVID-19, which has infected nearly 270,000 people and has left 2,760 dead in the kingdom.

The security forces have been ready since 6 July to secure the pilgrims and ensure that only authorized people access the holy sites, head of the Hajj Security Committee Khalid bin Qarar Al-Harbi, said on Tuesday.

Over the past few weeks, the lucky pilgrims have arrived at the hotels, undergone medical tests and been put under the mandatory quarantine before the rituals begin on Wednesday.

Each pilgrim has to wear an electronic armband to ensure they have gone through quarantine before taking part in the rituals.

This year, no representative for the Saudi government will take part in the Hajj.

Hundreds of workers are tasked with cleaning the facilities, over several shifts, to make sure the holy places are always sterilized.

In the ritual that involves throwing pebbles at three columns representing the devil’s temptations, the stones will be collected so that no one comes into contact with them after they have been touched by the pilgrims.

The authorities have also established mechanisms to help pilgrims keep social distancing during every stop in the three-day rituals.

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