Annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia will return to pre-pandemic levels this year.
11 January 2023, 12:00 AM
28 February 2023, 12:00 AM
After restrictions saw the annual hajj pilgrimage curtailed over concerns about the coronavirus, the annual religious commemoration in Saudi Arabia is set to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, authorities say.
Before the pandemic, the pilgrimage drew millions each year to Islam’s holy city of Mecca, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that observant Muslims pray toward five times a day.
In 2019, over 2.4 million people took part in the pilgrimage. But in 2020, amid the lockdowns sparked by the pandemic, Saudi Arabia drastically curtailed the hajj with as as few as 1,000 residents of Saudi Arabia permitted to take part. It was an unprecedented move unseen even during the 1918 flu epidemic that killed tens of millions worldwide.
In 2021, some 60,000 residents of Saudi Arabia attended. Last year saw 1 million faithful perform the pilgrimage.
Speaking on Monday night at a conference about the hajj in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq bin Fawzan al-Rabiah announced the lifting of the restrictions.“I bring you two bits of good news in this meeting. The first: The return of the numbers of pilgrims to what they were before the pandemic without any age restrictions,” al-Rabiah said, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
“And the second: Allowing any hajj mission from around the world to deal with any licensed company that meets the requirements of the pilgrims of those countries,” he added.
Only those between the ages of 18 to 65 could attend the hajj in recent years. Saudi Arabia also had limited which private companies could conduct travel arrangements for the hajj.