Pilgrims walk around the Kabba at the Grand Mosque n Makkah Saudi Arabia, on Friday. AP
Organising this year’s scaled-down Hajj required "double efforts" by Saudi authorities amid the coronavirus pandemic, King Salman said on Friday after being discharged from hospital following gall bladder surgery.
Only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom are participating in this year's pilgrimage, compared with 2019's gathering of some 2.5 million from around the world.
"Holding the ritual in the shadow of this pandemic... required reducing the numbers of pilgrims, but it obliged various official agencies to put in double efforts," 84-year-old King Salman said in a speech read out on state television by acting media minister Majid Al Qasabi.
"The Hajj this year was restricted to a very limited number of people from multiple nationalities, ensuring the ritual was completed despite the difficult circumstances," he said.
The speech came on the occasion of Eid Al Adha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice, a day after the king left hospital following a 10-day stay for surgery to remove his gall bladder.
The Hajj, which began on Wednesday, is one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime.
Authorities implemented the "highest health precautions" during the rituals, the king said.
Pilgrims, who were all tested for the virus, are required to wear masks and observe social distancing.
For Friday's "stoning of the devil", the last major ritual of the Hajj, Saudi authorities offered the pilgrims pebbles that were sanitised to protect against the pandemic.
In a sign that its strict measures were working, the health ministry reported no coronavirus cases in the holy sites on Wednesday or Thursday.Agence France-Presse
In a statement, the Saudi Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said the new measures will require pilgrims to wear face masks and will forbid entry to the holy sites without a permit, starting from 19th July until 2nd August, 2020.
The Saudi Interior Ministry announced the Kingdom's readiness for the upcoming Hajj season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, state-media reported.
The Hajj, which begins on Wednesday, normally draws around 2.5 million people for five intense days of worship in one of the world's largest gatherings of people from around the world.
Volunteers will receive their second vaccine shot in the coming weeks, and undergo regular health checks with full ongoing support from over 140 doctors, 300 nurses, and many more support staff involved in the trials.
"Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria, Morocco are the first set of countries that committed to it," said John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Addis Ababa.
Sajaya’s 'Salam cultural event' to be hosted live on Zoom will feature a series of activities including an art auction, drawing, sketching and painting, and instrumental and vocal music segments.
The Ministry said in a statement that the intense testing drive uncovered 277 new cases of various nationalities, who are all in a stable condition and receiving the necessary medical treatment. This brings the total number of official cases recorded in the UAE to 63,489.