Around a 1,000 people will perform the annual Islamic rite this year due to restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual Hajj pilgrimage is set to start in the Muslim holy city of Mecca under restrictions that have prevented millions from attending.

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Around 1,000 people already in the kingdom will perform this year’s pilgrimage due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected at least 16.4 million people globally and killed more than 650,000.

The six-day long Islamic rite will start on the evening of Tuesday July 28th and last for six days after.

It will culminate with the Islamic holiday of Eid al Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice.

Why is Hajj important?

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and every able bodied Muslim, who can afford it, is expected to carry out the rite within their lifetime.

Across the world, Muslims save up for decades for a chance to be able to participate in the pilgrimage and usually the Hajj draws around two million people a year.

For Muslims it symbolises the story of the Prophet Ibrahim —also known as Abraham to Christians and Jews — who is believed to have built God’s abode on Earth, the Kaaba, and was willing to sacrifice his son on God’s command.

The sacrifice preceding the Eid celebration recalls the moment God replaced Abraham’s son, Ismail in the Islamic tradition, with a ram at the last moment.

Who can attend this year’s Hajj?

Of the thousand pilgrims expected to take part in the 2020 pilgrimage, 70 percent will be foreigners and 30 percent will be made up of Saudi citizens.

Foreigners allowed to attend the Hajj must already be residents of Saudi Arabia.
How will Hajj be different due to the coronavirus pandemic?

Because of the Covid-19 outbreak, numbers will have to be restricted and social distancing and sanitation measures will be put into effect during the pilgrimage.

Pebbles used for the ‘stoning of the devil’ ceremony will be sanitised and handed to pilgrims, and no pilgrims will be allowed to touch the Kaaba or kiss the black stone at its corner – both of which are regular customs during the Hajj.

During prayers in congregation, participants will have to wear a face mask and keep themselves socially distanced from other worshippers.

Saudi Arabia has so far had close to 267,000 coronavirus cases with around 2,733 deaths.

What will the economic toll of the limited Hajj be for Saudi Arabia?

The restrictions on Hajj and the preceding ban on Umrah pilgrimages is expected to cost Saudi Arabia $12bn if it continues until the end of the year.

This amounts to seven percent of the country’s entire GDP and 20 percent of its non-oil GDP.

Has anything like this happened before?

There were many outbreaks in the Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula over the 19th Century, such as the plague, cholera and meningitis.

The spread of the plague epidemic in the Hejaz region in 1814 caused the death of about 8,000 people, and the pilgrimage was not allowed that year. An epidemic started again in the pilgrimage season of 1837, continuing until 1892.

Nearly a thousand had died every day due to the highly fatal epidemic between this period. Doctors from Egypt were sent to build a quarantine on the road to Mecca to look after people.

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