Mask-clad Muslim pilgrims on Wednesday began the annual Hajj, dramatically downsized this year as the Saudi hosts strive to prevent a coronavirus outbreak during the five-day pilgrimage.
The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.
But this year only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will participate in the ritual, a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world that attended last year.
Pilgrims walked into Mecca’s Grand Mosque in batches to begin the ritual with their first “tawaf,” or walk around the holy Kaaba state television showed.
Pilgrims will be required to wear masks and observe social distancing during a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in the holy city of Mecca and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia.
Those selected to take part in the hajj were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began trickling into Mecca at the weekend.
Workers, clutching brooms and disinfectant, were seen cleaning the area around the Kaaba.
“There are no security-related concerns in this pilgrimage, but [downsizing] is to protect pilgrims from the danger of the pandemic,” said Saudi Arabia’s director of public security, Khalid bin Qarar Al-Harbi.