Following a surge in coronavirus spread, the Saudi Arabian Government has barred pilgrims from Nigeria and other foreign countries from participating in 2021 hajj and limited the number of pilgrims to take part in the religious rites to 60,000 worshippers with strict adherence to coronavirus.
The government said that the 60,000 pilgrims that would participate in this year’s hajj, expected to commence next month, would be limited to citizens that were between the ages of 18 to 65.
Besides, the government also disclosed that pilgrims that fall between the age bracket must be certified by medical experts not to have any chronic diseases that could further worsen when they participate in the religious rites.
According to Saudi authorities, the decision to limit participants and shut its door to foreign pilgrims was to protect millions of citizens and their visitors from contracting the virus, and that safety as well as, security of all worshippers were greatly considered while formulating the 2021 hajj policy.
The policy for 2021 hajj was announced by the country’s ministry for Hajj and Umrah on Saturday through a statement made available to newsmen, justifying its action for barring foreigners from visiting the holy city.
The statement reads: “In light of what the whole world is witnessing from the continuing developments of the coronavirus pandemic and the emergence of new mutations, Hajj registration will be limited to residents and citizens from inside the Kingdom only”.
In last year’s hajj, as few as 1,000 people already residing in Saudi Arabia were selected to take part in the hajj. Two-thirds were foreign residents from among the 160 different nationalities that would have normally been represented at the hajj. One-third were Saudi security personnel and medical staff.
Before the new policy, each year, up to 2 million Muslims perform the hajj, a physically demanding and often costly pilgrimage that draws the faithful from around the world. The hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims to perform once in their lifetime, is seen as a chance to wipe clean past sins and bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims.
The kingdom’s Al Saud ruling family stakes its legitimacy in this oil-rich nation on overseeing and protecting the hajj sites. Ensuring the hajj happens has been a priority for them.
Disease outbreaks have always been a concern surrounding the hajj. Pilgrims fought off a malaria outbreak in 632, cholera in 1821 killed an estimated 20,000, and another cholera outbreak in 1865 killed 15,000 before spreading worldwide.
More recently, Saudi Arabia faced danger from a different coronavirus, one that causes the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. The kingdom increased its public health measures during the hajj in 2012 and 2013, urging the sick and the elderly not to take part.
Saudi Arabia had closed its borders for months to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus. Since the start of the pandemic, the kingdom has reported over 462,000 cases of the virus with 7,500 deaths. It has administered some 15.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, according to the World Health Organization. The kingdom is home to over 30 million people.