Saudi Arabia’s health ministry says only people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to attend the Hajj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is mandatory for those willing to come to the Hajj and will be one of the main conditions (for receiving a permit to come),” Monday’s report said, citing a circular signed by the health minister.
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Saudi Arabia takes pride in its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and its smooth organisation of the annual Hajj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.
In 2020, the kingdom dramatically reduced the number of pilgrims allowed to attend Hajj to about 1,000 Saudi citizens and residents of the kingdom, in order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first time in modern times.
Hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, is a major source of income for the Saudi government.
The congregation of millions of pilgrims from around the world can be a major cause of coronavirus transmission. In the past, worshippers have returned home with respiratory and other diseases.
In the same circular, Saudi Minister of Health Dr Tawfiq al-Rabiah said the government must be prepared to “secure the manpower required to operate the health facilities in Mecca and Medina”.
These facilities will be stationed at entry points for pilgrims, he said, in addition to a formation of a vaccination committee for pilgrims within Saudi Arabia.