This first group of foreign faithful arrived in Medina (west) from Indonesia before going to the Holy City near Mecca for the great annual pilgrimage which is due to start on July 8, said a ministry official in charge. of Hajj. Other flights are expected from Malaysia and India in particular.
In April, Saudi Arabia announced it would allow one million Muslims around the world to participate in the hajj this year, opening its doors to those coming from abroad for the first time since 2020 after the pandemic began. of Covid-19.
The great pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed by all Muslims who can afford it at least once in their lifetime. It is usually among the largest religious gatherings in the world — around 2.5 million people in 2019.
After the start of the pandemic, the Saudi authorities authorized only 1,000 pilgrims in 2020, and 60,000 residents the following year, all vaccinated and chosen by lot.
Hosting the hajj in Islam’s holiest places is a key source of revenue for Saudi Arabia. In normal times, the two main Muslim pilgrimages, the hajj and the Umrah, bring in some 12 billion dollars (10.2 billion euros) a year to the kingdom.
In August 2021, the kingdom had reopened its borders to foreign pilgrims wishing to participate in the Umrah or small pilgrimage, which unlike the hajj can be carried out throughout the year.
The hajj this year will be limited to vaccinated pilgrims under the age of 65, according to authorities. Travelers coming from abroad will have to present a negative PCR test of less than 72 hours.
The kingdom of around 34 million people has recorded more than 751,000 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and more than 9,000 deaths, according to the latest official data.