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Pilgrims arrive for first day of Hajj with COVID-19 restrictions

Pilgrims arrive for first day of Hajj with COVID-19 restrictions

As one of the five key pillars in Islam, Hajj is a requirement for all physically and financially able Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime.

Masked pilgrims scaled Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat on Thursday (July 31) to pray and repent in the climax of this year's hajj, the smallest in modern times after massive crowds in previous years.

Like other pilgrims who've spoken with The Associated Press, Yusuf said the pilgrimage has been "well-planned and well-organized" by the Saudi government, which has covered all expenses for travel, accommodation, meals and health care for pilgrims on this hajj.

Pilgrims start the Hajj by walking seven times in a counter-clockwise direction around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped holy building inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

"There are some rituals of Hajj that we can not really separate [the pilgrims] because they have to be in one place at one time, so we had to prepare these places in a way that maintains social distancing and also to make available the personal protective equipment for these places", Dr. Assiri said.

Those selected to take part in this year's Hajj were subject to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began trickling into Mecca at the weekend.

State media showed health workers sanitising their luggage, and some pilgrims reported receiving electronic wristbands to let authorities monitor their whereabouts.

Saudi authorities also reported setting up multiple health facilities, mobile clinics and ambulances to cater to the pilgrims.

The Kaaba is draped in a black cloth embroidered in gold with Quranic verses and known as the kiswa, which is changed each year during the pilgrimage.

All worshippers were required to be tested for coronavirus before arriving in Mecca and will also have to quarantine after the pilgrimage as the number of cases in the kingdom nears 270,000, one of the largest outbreaks in the Middle East.

Attendees were given elaborate amenity kits that included sterilised pebbles for the ritual Stoning of the Devil, disinfectant, masks and a prayer rug, according to the hajj ministry.

Despite the fact that the world has been taken in by the contagious coronavirus, the annual Hajj pilgrimage is taking place by incorporating all the safety protocols and social distancing measures indicating that Hajj 2020 might be the safest one ever.

Some 70 percent of the pilgrims are foreigners residing in the kingdom, while the rest will be Saudi citizens.

Saudi Arabia said it will allow only about 1,000 pilgrims residing in the kingdom to perform the Hajj this year.

Even in a regular year, the Hajj leaves pilgrims exposed to a host of viral illnesses. Global flights to and from Saudi Arabia have been suspended since March.

The hajj and the year-round umrah pilgrimages together rake in some $12 billion annually.