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Dramatic pictures show scaled-down Hajj pilgrimage due to COVID-19

1 month ago 12

Muslims wearing face masks and socially distancing have started arriving in Mecca for a dramatically scaled-down Hajj pilgrimage in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 2.5 million pilgrims usually visit the Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina for the week-long ritual - a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

But this year as few as 1,000 people already residing in Saudi Arabia will take part in the gathering in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19.

Pilgrims, wearing face masks and moving in small groups walk around the Kaaba, Mecca's holiest site Pilgrims circle Kaaba in socially distanced Hajj

Rather than praying shoulder to shoulder in a sea of people from different walks of life, pilgrims have been standing apart and moving in small groups of 20.

In past years, it was common to see men pushing their elderly parents around on wheelchairs in order to help them complete the Hajj, along with parents carrying children on their backs and people eating together.

This year, however, pilgrims are eating pre-packaged meals alone in their hotel rooms.

For the first time in Saudi history, the government barred Muslims from entering the kingdom from abroad to perform the Hajj.

Socially-distanced pilgrims walk around the Kaaba at the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca

Image: Socially distanced pilgrims walk around the Kaaba at the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca

Muslim pilgrims perform the final walk around the Kaaba in 2019

Image: It was a very different scene last year

The pilgrims, who were selected after applying through an online portal, were required to be between the ages of 20 and 50, with no terminal illnesses and showing no symptoms of the virus.

Preference was given to those who have not performed the Hajj before.

Socially-distanced pilgrims walk around the Kaaba at the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca

Image: As few as 1,000 people will take part in this year's ritual

The scene was different last year

Image: But last year millions of Muslims made the pilgrimage

Pilgrims were tested for coronavirus and given wristbands that connect to their phones and monitor their movement.

They were required to quarantine at home and in their hotel rooms in Mecca ahead of the start of the journey.

They also must quarantine for a week after the Hajj concludes on Sunday.

Pilgrims wear masks at the centre of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca

Image: Pilgrims have been pictured wearing face masks to stop the spread of coronavirus

A pilgrim wearing a face mask prays at the Grand Mosque in Mecca

The Saudi government is covering all the pilgrims' expenses for travel, accommodation, meals and healthcare.

The Hajj is one of Islam's most important requirements and follows a route the Prophet Mohammed walked nearly 1,400 years ago.

Socially-distanced pilgrims pray at the Grand Mosque in Mecca

Image: Socially distanced Muslim pilgrims pray at the Grand Mosque in Mecca

A pilgrim receives water at the Grand Mosque complex in Mecca

It is believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.

The pilgrimage is intended to bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims and it is a journey that followers traditionally experience with relatives.

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