Hajj to Return to Pre-COVID Attendance

During the opening ceremony of the Expo Hajj on Monday, the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, announced that the kingdom is planning for the Hajj to return to pre-pandemic attendance this year.

Hajj to Return to Pre-COVID Attendance
Image credit: Reuters [via BBC]

Facts

  • During the opening ceremony of the Expo Hajj on Monday, the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, announced that the kingdom is planning for the Hajj to return to pre-pandemic attendance this year. The Expo Hajj is a four-day conference that previews services that Saudi Arabia will offer for the upcoming pilgrimages.
  • The Hajj, a religious pilgrimage required of every able-bodied Muslim at least once in their life, brings the world's largest gathering to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia where pilgrims pray five times a day toward the Kaaba.
  • Beginning with the outbreak of COVID in 2020, Saudi Arabia has limited the number of pilgrims permitted to attend, with an age limit imposed on pilgrimage attendees even after the kingdom eased lockdown restrictions and reopened.
  • In 2019 more than 2.6M people participated, followed by two years with limited attendance under the pandemic. In 2022, restrictions allowed only fully-vaccinated pilgrims with no chronic conditions between the ages of 18 and 65, though Saudi Arabia still hosted over 1M foreign pilgrims.
  • The Kaaba at the Great Mosque of Mecca was barricaded to encourage social distancing during the pandemic, but this was removed last August allowing pilgrims to touch and kiss the stone. The Black Stone is said to be from the time of Adam and Eve and to once have been white but turned black from the sins of those who made contact with it.
  • The safety of pilgrims has been a concern during the Hajj during previous disease outbreaks — including malaria in 632, cholera in 1821 and 1865, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) from 2012-2013. The Hajj's COVID response was unprecedented even compared to the influenza outbreak of 1918.

Sources: Medialine, Al Jazeera, National News, Al Arabiya, and BBC News.

Narratives

  • Narrative A, as provided by Livemint. Since the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has taken COVID mitigation measures seriously to support the safety of pilgrims. Each year, the kingdom successfully increased the number of pilgrims in attendance while effectively monitoring the public health status of the site. The new policy this year is built on a successful and safe series of public health measures to maximize the experience for those undertaking this holy pilgrimage.
  • Narrative B, as provided by Al Jazeera. Though very few Muslims criticized the Saudi government's decision to curtail the number of pilgrims during the COVID pandemic, the highly restrictive measures had a devastating impact on those who missed out. Hopefully, the reopening process will be more accessible than ever so those who couldn't go in the past can make it now.
  • Narrative C, as provided by Foreign Affairs. "Spillover" of animal disease to humans is inevitable, but we must stop our future from turning into an era of constant pandemics. Mass gatherings like the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia increase the odds of super-spreader events. All nations of the world must use the tools of epidemiology — disease surveillance, quarantines, testing, vaccines, and transparent reporting — to ensure the pandemic disruption of the past few years doesn't become our "new normal."