The first batch of Muslim pilgrims arrived at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, on Saturday, to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, amid precautionary measures against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In a break from the practice of previous years, this year’s Hajj pilgrimage will see Saudi Arabia allow women to perform the pilgrimage without mahram (male guardian) for the first time. This is the latest move in recent years by Saudi Arabia to loosen some restrictions on women’s activities.
The official account of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques’ Affairs published pictures showing the reception of the pilgrims and precautionary measures. It also published pictures of pilgrims performing the Tawaaf, or circumambulation around the Kaaba, of arrival while adhering to physical distance and wearing face-masks.
Only 60,000 citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia are participating in the Hajj season this year, after it was limited to those residing in the country and vaccinated against COVID-19.
Pilgrims aged between 18 and 65 years, and who do not suffer from any chronic diseases, have been granted permission to perform the Hajj. This compares to the more normal numbers of 2.5 million pilgrims that made the last pilgrimage before the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019.
This comes in light of intensive efforts by the authorities to maintain preventive measures, as Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has developed a so-called “Smart Hajj Card” under the name “Rites”. The card allows pilgrims to reach camps and hotels and move between the holy areas without any contact.
On Friday, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah stopped issuing a prayer permit in the Grand Mosque, effective as of 16 June.