Islam’s holiest observances began Wednesday as a small group of pilgrims arrived in Mecca to begin the Hajj, which has been dramatically scaled-back due to the coronavirus pandemic, Voice of America (VoA) reported.
Instead of the two million-plus people from around the globe that normally make the required once-in-a-lifetime journey to Islam’s holiest site, Saudi Arabia has barred all international travelers from entering the kingdom to perform the Hajj, limiting the attendees to just 1,000 people made up of Saudi nationals and foreign residents who were pre-selected weeks ago.
The pilgrims are between the ages of 20 and 50 and have been tested for COVID-19 before traveling to Mecca, where they were required to quarantine in their hotel rooms before the start of the Hajj.
They will also be required to enter quarantine for a week after the end of their five-day pilgrimage.
The small band of pilgrims will observe social distancing as they walk counterclockwise around the cube-shaped Kaaba placed in the center of the Grand Mosque during the first ritual of the Hajj — a far different scene than usual, with the mosque packed with pilgrims standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they circle the Kaaba.
Saudi Arabia has more than 270,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 2,800 deaths.