Pilgrims throng the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Medina for the week-long Hajj. File photo
Saudi Arabia said Saturday it will permit one million Muslims from inside and outside the country to participate in this year's Hajj, greatly expanding the key event to participants from outside the kingdom after two years of tight COVID restrictions, state media said on Saturday.
Pilgrims to Makkah this year must be under age 65 and fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, a sharp uptick after pandemic restrictions forced two years of drastically pared-down pilgrimages.
The ministry of Hajj and Umrah said in a statement carried by the SPA news agency that it "has authorised one million pilgrims, both foreign and domestic, to perform the hajj this year," it said in a statement.
Participants from abroad will be allowed this year but must present a recent negative COVID PCR test, and health precautions will be observed, it said.
Muslim pilgrims make their way down a rocky hill known as Mountain of Mercy, on the Plain of Arafat.
Last year, the kingdom limited the annual Haj, one of Islam's five main pillars, to 60,000 domestic participants, compared to the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.
Visits to the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Medina for the week-long Hajj, and the lesser, year-round Umrah pilgrimage, previously earned the kingdom about $12 billion a year, according to official data.
The following year, they upped the total to 60,000 fully vaccinated residents chosen through a lottery.
The Hajj consists of a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in Islam's holiest city, Makkah, and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia.
Hosting the Hajj is a matter of prestige for Saudi rulers, as the custodianship of Islam's holiest sites is the most powerful source of their political legitimacy.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in cooperation with the concerned authorities, received after midnight, the first vanguard of Umrah performers from inside the Kingdom.
Saudi Press Agency has quoted the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah as saying that the new platform has been linked to the services provided on the "Visit Saudi Arabia" to facilitate the pilgrims heading to two holy cities.
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Authorities in Saudi Arabia are continuing to assess conditions and take all measures to ensure preserving human health, pointing out that the details of the controls and operational plans for this year's Hajj will be announced later.
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