Jul 18, 2021 10:40 UTC
  • Pilgrims start second downsized Hajj rituals amid COVID pandemic, restrictions

A few thousand pilgrims have streamed out of the holy city of Mecca to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage for the second downsized rituals staged during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since Saturday, groups of pilgrims have been performing the “tawaf,” the circumambulation of the Ka'ba, a large cubic structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.

Many have been carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching summer heat.

“Every three hours, 6,000 people enter to perform the tawaf of arrival,” Saudi Arabia’s Hajj Ministry spokesman Hisham al-Saeed said.

“After each group leaves, a sterilization process is carried out at the sanctuary.”

Some pilgrims have already been making their way to the Valley of Mina, where they will spend the night.

“A total of 46,000 pilgrims have arrived in Mina,” Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdelfattah bin Suleiman Mashat told AFP on Sunday morning.

“The number of women participating in the Hajj this year exceeds 40 percent,” he added.

Because of coronavirus-related restrictions on large gatherings, no foreign pilgrims have been allowed to perform the Hajj again this year.

Only 60,000 vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents between the ages of 18 and 65 were allowed to register for the annual pilgrimage.

The year before, up to 10,000 Saudi citizens and residents were permitted to perform the Hajj.

In the years before the pandemic, about 2.5 million pilgrims from across the world flocked to Islam’s holiest site to attend the Hajj.