06/23/2020, 10.42
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Covid-19, Saudi Arabia bans international pilgrims to Hajj

For the first time, the event will not include faithful from abroad. There will be a minimum number of Saudis and foreign residents. In the Saudi kingdom there are 161 thousand cases of covid-19 and over 1300 victims. In the next few days, the cancellation of the curfew and the relaxation of restrictions are expected.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - To avoid new outbreaks of Covid-19 following the import of cases from outside, Saudi Arabia has decided to carry out a "very limited" Hajj. This year the major pilgrimage to Mecca, which every devout Muslim must make at least once in his life, will be without the presence of faithful from other nations. In contrast, only a limited number of Saudi nationals and people with residence permits in the kingdom will be expected.

Last March, during the early stages of the pandemic, Riyadh was asked to suspend the organization of travel to sacred places, reserving the right to cancel the event or hold it  - as has happened – in a far smaller capacity with the green light "to a symbolic number" of faithful.

The announcement will spark the ire of millions of Muslims around the world, who often invest the savings of a lifetime to perform the Hajj. At the same time, the decision will benefit Saudi pilgrims and residents who have long feared a complete cancellation.

For the first time in modern history, Muslims who do not live in Saudi Arabia will not be able to attend the event, which annually attracts around 2.5 million people.

The Saudi Ministry for Hajj stresses that the ritual will be free for citizens of different nationalities already present in Saudi Arabia, without specifying the exact number. "This decision was made - underlines a note - to ensure that [the pilgrimage] is carried out respecting all necessary health and safety measures ... and in accordance with the precepts of Islam".

The decision to limit the pilgrimage comes at a time when the country is still struggling to contain the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic, which has so far affected 161 thousand people - the highest figure among the Gulf nations - and caused over 1300 victims. However, in spite of the continued escalation, Saudi Arabia has decided to lift the curfew and ease numerous restrictions on business and commercial activities, including cinemas and entertainment venues.

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