MAKKAH (AFP) – Organising this year’s scaled-down Haj required “double efforts” by Saudi authorities amid the coronavirus pandemic, King Salman said yesterday after being discharged from hospital following gall bladder surgery.
Only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom are participating in this year’s pilgrimage, compared with 2019’s gathering of some 2.5 million from around the world.
“Holding the ritual in the shadow of this pandemic… required reducing the numbers of pilgrims, but it obliged various official agencies to put in double efforts,” 84-year-old King Salman said in a speech read out on state television by Acting Media Minister Majid Al-Qasabi.
“The Haj this year was restricted to a very limited number of people from multiple nationalities, ensuring the ritual was completed despite the difficult circumstances,” he said.
The speech came on the occasion of Aidiladha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice, a day after the king left hospital following a 10-day stay for surgery to remove his gall bladder.
The Haj, which began on Wednesday, is one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime.
Authorities implemented the “highest health precautions” during the rituals, the king said.
Pilgrims, who were all tested for the virus, are required to wear masks and observe social distancing. For yesterday’s “stoning of the devil”, the last major ritual of the Haj, Saudi authorities offered the pilgrims pebbles that were sanitised to protect against the pandemic.
In a sign that its strict precautionary measures were working, the Saudi Health Ministry reported no coronavirus cases in the holy sites on Wednesday or Thursday.