Saudi Arabia gears up for downsized hajj Saudi Arabia on Wednesday starts

Saudi Arabia gears up for downsized hajj Saudi Arabia on Wednesday starts

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday starts internet hosting the annual hajj pilgrimage, dramatically downscaled due to the coronavirus pandemic that has barred tens of millions of worldwide pilgrims for the first time in present day history.

Up to 10,000 human beings, living in the kingdom will take part in the Muslim ritual, a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million that attended closing year, after what many noticed as an opaque determination system that left a wave of candidates rejected.

The overseas press are barred from this year's hajj, typically a large world media event, as the authorities tightens get entry to the holy metropolis of Mecca and places in area strict fitness restrictions to forestall a virus outbreak throughout the five-day pilgrimage -- a key pillar of Islam.

Saudi Arabia has recorded greater than 260,000 instances of the novel coronavirus, whilst the variety of declared world infections handed sixteen million on Sunday.

Mask-clad pilgrims started trickling into Mecca over the weekend and have been concern to temperature tests and positioned in quarantine, authorities said.

They had been, given complex amenity kits that encompass sterilized pebbles for a stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks, a prayer rug and the ihram, a seamless white garment worn by using pilgrims,
 In accordance to a hajj ministry programmer document.

Pilgrims are required to, be examined. for coronavirus earlier than arriving in Mecca and will additionally have to quarantine after the pilgrimage.

The ministry stated it has set up more than one fitness facilities, cellular clinics and ambulances to cater to the pilgrims, who will be required to look at social distancing.

- 'Golden ticket' -

Saudi authorities in the beginning stated solely round 1,000 pilgrims dwelling in the kingdom would be accepted for hajj however neighborhood media reviews say as many as 10,000 will be allowed.

The hajj ministry has fielded a deluge of anguished queries on Twitter from rejected applicants.

However, Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten insisted the system was once transparent, telling the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV that "health determinants" shaped the foundation of selection.

The ministry stated non-Saudi residents of the kingdom from round a hundred and sixty international locations competed in the on line choice process.

It stated overseas residents would make up 70 percentage of all chosen pilgrims.

However, it did now not provide an explanation for how many applied, and some disillusioned pilgrims have complained that the government-run lottery used to be no, longer virtually outlined and say no purpose used to be given for their rejection.

Among the elite is Nasser, a Riyadh-based Nigerian expatriate, euphoric at triumphing what he known as the "golden ticket" to hajj

"This feeling can't be described," he informed AFP earlier than his arrival in Mecca.

The ministry has stated the Saudi pilgrims had been, chosen from a pool of fitness practitioners and army personnel who have recovered from COVID-19.

To be amongst the chosen ones provides an air of mystery of spiritual status to this year's pilgrimage, candidates say.

Despite the pandemic, many pilgrims think about it is safer to take part in this year's ritual besides the common enormous crowds cramming into tiny spiritual sites, which make it a logistical nightmare and a fitness hazard.

Even in a normal year, the hajj leaves pilgrims uncovered to a host of viral illnesses.

- 'Substantial cost' -

The authorities scaled again the pilgrimage as it ought to be a most important supply of contagion, however the go will deepen the kingdom's monetary slump, analysts say.

It comes as Saudi Arabia faces a sharp downturn in oil expenses due to a fall down in international demand pushed with the aid of countrywide lockdowns, which caused austerity measures such as the tripling of a fee delivered tax and cuts to civil servants' allowances.

The virus has additionally battered pilgrimage-reliant companies that help heaps of heaps of jobs in Mecca, from tour retailers to avenue barbers and memento shops.

Many have stated sweeping layoffs, pay cuts or delayed salaries.

Mecca has considered a building increase in current years that introduced purchasing malls, flats and luxurious hotels, some imparting superb views of the sacred Kaaba, a cube-shaped shape in the Grand Mosque in the direction of which Muslims round the world pray.

However, most premises have lain empty due to the fact, that the pandemic reached the kingdom.

Saudi authorities had already, in March suspended the umrah pilgrimage, which can be, carried out at any time.

The pilgrimages collectively rake in some $12 billion (10.3 billion euros) annually, preserving the financial system buzzing in Mecca.

"Limiting this year's hajj to Saudi residents comes at a vast however surmountable price to the economy," the Eurasia Group's Sofia Meranto advised AFP.

"Against the backdrop of day by day contamination charges nonetheless (remaining) high, the authorities is prioritising healthcare... over momentary financial costs, hoping to recoup misplaced income by way of subsequent hajj season or by way of resuming umrah earlier."

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