Saudi Arabia: pilgrims begin quarantine before reduced coronavirus Hajj

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Specially-selected pilgrims began a seven-day quarantine period in Saudi Arabia on Sunday in preparation for a greatly reduced Hajj.

The annual pilgrimage, beginning next Tuesday and ending on August 2, will include one thousand people.

The reduced number, part of measures to halt the spread of coronavirus, is a fraction of the millions who usually attend and pilgrims are barred from travelling from outside the Kingdom to perform the ritual.

Saudi Arabian citizens make up 30 per cent of those taking part, with foreigners living in the country making up the other 70 per cent.

On announcing the beginning of quarantine, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah wrote on Twitter: "We ask God to grant success to the pilgrims to perform their rituals in a safe and secure manner, and to make their pilgrimages justified and their endeavours thanked."

The lucky 1,000 pilgrims were selected from healthcare workers and security personnel on the country’s Covid-19 recovery database. They started a seven day quarantine on Sunday, according to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

The new guidelines also mandated that foreign residents in Saudi Arabia who want to participate in this year's pilgrimage should be between the ages of 20 and 50, and have not performed the Hajj before.

People from 160 different nationalities currently residing in the Kingdom have been selected to perform the Hajj this year.

The government said earlier their selection represents a "token of appreciation for their role in providing care" during the pandemic.

Hajj will look very different this year, as a series of safeguards have been taken to ensure the safety of pilgrims. All those undertaking the ritual in Mount Arafat and Mina must agree to stay in designated areas, stick to the assigned walking route, wear a mask at all times, maintain social distancing and only eat food provided.

Housing units and other arrangements have been made for pilgrims. Supplied

The Kingdom has also handled accommodation for the pilgrims, assigning them tents to ensure their number does not exceed 10 pilgrims per 50 square metres, while maintaining a distance of at least 1.5 metres between each other from all sides, and to prevent crowding at wash rooms.

All pilgrims will be given sterilised pilgrim kits, bags of sterilised gravel, sanitiser, masks and prayer mats, among other items. They will not be permitted to share any items they are given or others they bring with them.

To move the pilgrims along the route, authorities will also be using 50 buses, filling them only half way to maintain social distancing. Groups will be assigned a certain bus that will transport them throughout the different stages of the Hajj.

Once the pilgrimage has been conducted, individuals will be required to undergo a second quarantine period.

Updated: July 20, 2020 05:30 PM

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