Pandemic-hit hajj ‘safest ever’ | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 31, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:09 AM, July 31, 2020

Pandemic-hit hajj ‘safest ever’

This year's downsized hajj may prove to be the safest ever despite the ever-present threat posed by the novel coronavirus.

In past years pilgrims have faced a host of viral illnesses, with some falling sick, but a raft of measures are in place for the relatively modest number allowed to attend this year.

The hajj is usually attended by upwards of two million Muslims, who converge on the Saudi city Makkah for one of the world's biggest annual gatherings.

That poses enormous health and logistical challenges.

In the past, pilgrims returning home have developed respiratory diseases after mingling with large crowds and staying in cramped pilgrim camps where social distancing was unheard of.

Just 10,000 Muslims, all resident in the kingdom, are being allowed to perform the hajj -- 0.4 percent of last year's 2.5 million attendees from across the globe.

But despite the pandemic, many pilgrims said they felt safer joining a limited number of fellow faithful for the hajj as the risk of both infection and logistical upsets was limited.

A stampede in 2015 that killed up to 2,300 worshippers was one of a series of deadly incidents that had sparked criticism of how the pilgrimage was managed.

But the scene on Wednesday was a vast contrast to that: mask-clad pilgrims performed the "tawaf", a ritual walk around the Kaaba, in small groups, following carefully spaced routes marked on the white marble floor.

Attendees were given elaborate amenity kits that included sterilised pebbles for the ritual Stoning of the Devil, disinfectant, masks and a prayer rug, according to the hajj ministry.

 

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