JEDDAH: Pilgrims have arrived at the Grand Mosque in Makkah to perform tawaf in the first Hajj act of the year after reaching the city on Saturday through four entry points designed to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Saudi Arabia, which receives almost 2.5 million pilgrims each year, has limited the number of travelers permitted to perform Hajj for the second year in a row to 60,000, as health and safety is a top priority for officials amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The pilgrims permitted to perform Hajj comprise of different nationalities residing in the Kingdom and must be fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
According to this year’s Hajj organizing plan, pilgrims are gathering in four main entry locations: Al-Taneem, Al-Shara’i, the Kor checkpoint and the Al-Shumaisi security zone.
Pilgrims residing in Makkah were also directed to head to the nearest point to join up with arrivals.
Security and health checks were followed by bus transfers to take pilgrim groups to the Grand Mosque, where they performed tawaf upon arrival. Once completed, pilgrims left the Grand Mosque through the Bab Ali grouping station, where buses transported them to temporary residences near the holy sites.
With a temperature of 41 degrees Celsius in Makkah, most pilgrims were seen carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching summer heat. Security personnel and civil workers were monitoring the movement of the pilgrims, ensuring that all health instructions were followed and to provide immediate help.
Hisham Saeed, spokesman of the Hajj and Umrah ministry, said that 6,000 pilgrims every three hours are expected to enter the Grand Mosque to perform tawaf. After each group leaves, a sterilization process will be carried out to ensure maximum safety.
For the security and safety of pilgrims, all entrances to Makkah are monitored by security officers and thermal-imaging cameras to prevent people without Hajj permits accessing the holy sites.
“The mountains surrounding Makkah and all its valleys, where people with no Hajj permits might believe they can access the holy sites, are completely monitored by the Mujahideen force and equipped with cameras to foil such attempts,” Commander of Hajj Security Forces Maj Gen. Zayed bin Abdulrahman Al-Tuwayan said in a press conference held in Makkah.
According to Maj. Gen. Mohammed Al-Bassami, assistant commander of Hajj Security Forces for the Grand Mosque and its surroundings, officials are working closely with health authorities to protect pilgrims and prevent the spread of the coronavirus during Hajj.
Al-Bassami told Arab News that the Hajj Security Forces have a “very high level of coordination” with the Saudi Ministry of Health.
Hajj, the world’s largest annual religious gathering with about 2.5 million people taking part in 2019, is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all capable Muslims at least once in their lives.
Saudi health chiefs on Friday urged pilgrims due to attend this year’s Hajj to ensure they had packed face masks, hand sanitizers, napkins, and personal-use prayer mats before setting out on their journey to Makkah.
The annual pilgrimage, which this year will be performed by a limited number of worshippers due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic restrictions, will start on July 17/18 and end on July 22/23.
Spokesman for the Hajj Security Forces Command, Brig. Gen. Sami Al-Shuwairekh, said authorities had arrested nine people for trying to access holy sites without a permit, a prerequisite for this year’s Hajj season, and all of them had been fined SR10,000 ($2,666).
He warned that security forces would continue until July 23 to take legal action against anyone attempting to reach the Grand Mosque in Makkah, its central surrounding area, or holy sites at Mina, Muzdalifah, and Arafat without permission.
Meanwhile, Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh, launched maintenance and operational projects costing more than SR31 million to coincide with the start of Hajj.The initiatives will be implemented by the ministry to ensure the maintenance of high-quality services for pilgrims and application of health and safety measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Schemes also include an app project for smart devices to educate and guide pilgrims, a Wi-Fi service for Namira Mosque in Arafat Valley, the installation of 62 screens to broadcast awareness messages in different languages, and the provision of 30 interactive screens for the Islamic electronic library.
Saudi Arabia on Friday reported 13 more COVID-19-related deaths, taking the overall toll to 8,048.
There were 1,298 new cases, meaning that 507,423 people in the country had now contracted the disease. A total of 11,029 cases remained active, of which 1,400 patients were in critical condition.
In addition, the Saudi Ministry of Health said 1,428 patients had recovered from the disease, increasing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 488,346.
Meanwhile, 21,771,592 people in the country have to date received a jab against COVID-19, including 1,413,312 elderly.