World

Saudi Arabia bars foreign travellers from Haj over COVID-19

Saudi Arabia has restricted the annual Haj pilgrimage to citizens and residents and set a maximum of 60,000 pilgrims in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision was announced on Saturday (Jun 12) by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in a statement carried by state media.

The pilgrimage, scheduled to be held at the end of July, would be limited to those who have been vaccinated and are below 65 years of age with no chronic illnesses, it said.

It will be the second year in a row that the kingdom hosts a downscaled Haj amid the coronavirus pandemic.

least once in their lifetime - typically packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites and could be a major source of contagion.

Only up to 10,000 Muslims took part last year, a far cry from the 2.5 million who participated in the five-day annual pilgrimage in 2019.

In a relaxation of coronavirus curbs last October, Saudi Arabia opened the Grand Mosque for prayers for the first time in seven months and partially resumed the all-year-round Umrah pilgrimage.

The limit on Umrah pilgrims is 20,000 a day, with a total of 60,000 worshippers allowed to perform daily prayers at the mosque.

The Umrah usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year. Authorities said the Umrah would be allowed to return to full capacity once the threat of the pandemic has abated.

The revered Black Stone in the Kaaba - which is customary but not mandatory to touch during the pilgrimage - remains out of reach.