Macca: The largest Mecca pilgrimage since the beginning of the COVID pandemic began on Wednesday, and hundreds of thousands of almost maskless worshipers were expected to circle the most sacred places in Islamic Mecca. This year’s Mecca pilgrimage allows one million fully vaccinated Muslims, including 850,000 from abroad. This is a big break from the numbers that have been significantly reduced over the two years by the pandemic.

Pilgrims performed “Tawafu” at the Grand Mosque in Macca. This is a roundabout of a large cubic kaaba covered with a black cloth with golden embroidery for Muslims around the world to pray. Authorities said last month that masks would be needed on-site, but this week has been largely ignored so far.

Many pilgrims had umbrellas to block the hot sun as temperatures rose to 42 degrees Celsius. The Saudi Ministry of Health has set up 23 hospitals and 147 health centers in Islam’s second-holy cities, Mecca and Medina, to accommodate pilgrims, state media reported this week. This includes allocating more than 1,000 beds to patients in need of intensive care, especially more than 200 beds to patients with heat stroke, and dispatching more than 25,000 healthcare professionals to handle cases.

The pilgrimage consists of a series of religious ceremonies completed over a five-day period in and around the holy city of Islam in western Saudi Arabia. On Thursday, pilgrims will travel to Mina, about 5 km from the Grand Mosque, before the main ritual of Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave his final sermon. According to state media, four hospitals and 26 health centers are ready to treat pilgrims in Mina.

This year’s Mecca pilgrimage is limited to vaccinated Muslims under the age of 65 selected from millions of applicants through the online lottery system. Persons from outside Saudi Arabia were required to submit a negative COVID-19 PCR result for tests performed within 72 hours of travel. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has enrolled more than 795,000 cases of coronavirus, of which more than 9,000 are fatal.

Attempting to make a pilgrimage to Mecca without permission will result in a fine of 10,000 Saudi riyals (about $ 2,600). Police officers in mountain cities set up checkpoints and patrol their feet. Some pilgrims are dressed with their country’s name and flag. “Mecca Pilgrimage 2020-Chad” was written on the back of a group of white robes. Saudi Arabia now allows women to participate in Mecca pilgrimages without male relatives. This is a requirement that was abolished last year. – AFP

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