Saudi allows 60,000 vaccinated residents on hajj, bars foreigners again
Saudi Arabia announced on June 12it will allow 60,000 residents vaccinated against COVID to perform this year's hajj, but Muslims from abroad will be barred for a second straight year.
The hajj - a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lives - typically packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites and could be a major source of contagion amid the coronavirus pandemic.
This year it would be "open for nationals and residents of the kingdom, limited to 60,000 pilgrims", the hajj ministry said, quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The pilgrimage, scheduled to be held in July, would be limited to those who have been vaccinated and are aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses, it said.
Only up to 10,000 Muslims took part in last year's hajj, a far cry from the 2.5 million who participated in the five-day annual pilgrimage in 2019 before the pandemic.
"In light of what the whole world is witnessing with the coronavirus pandemic... and the emergence of new variants, the relevant authorities have continued to monitor the global health situation," the ministry said.
"Considering the large crowds that perform hajj, spending long periods of time in multiple and specific places... requires the highest levels of health precautions."
Saudi Arabia said those wishing to perform the hajj would have to apply online, without specifying how many foreign residents would be among the 60,000 pilgrims.
In 2020, foreigners were 70 percent of the pilgrims, while Saudis made up the rest.
The kingdom said it had informed other countries of the decision not to allow pilgrims from abroad.
"There was great understanding," deputy hajj minister, Abdulfattah bin Sulaiman Mashat, told a news conference...