As part of measures towards ensuring avoidable coronavirus spread is put under control, Saudi Arabia Government has mandated use of facemasks for pilgrims as part of newly released guidelines and protective measures for domestic pilgrims participating in 2020 Hajj.
It explained that the guidelines became imperative after the kingdom decided in June to limit number of domestic pilgrims attending Hajj to 1,000 following outbreak of the pandemic which necessitated ban of international pilgrims from entering the country.
However, the Saudi government had clearly stated that 2020 Hajj would have to follow a new tradition that may require the government to put a restriction on number of visitors that would be allowed to enter the country for the spiritual visit to Mecca.
The Saudi Arabia’s Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (SaudiCDC) said that since only a few thousand of the country’s citizens would be allowed to perform 2020 Hajj, and that those accessing the house must be on face masks during visitation.
Through a statement released containing the guidelines released on Monday, the Center indicated that it would not allow overcrowding and gatherings during the pilgrimage and that workers would be on standby to ensure strict compliance.
It added that space of one-and-a-half meters between each pilgrim must be observed during prayers or other rituals, at restaurants, or inside tents, saying the listed guidelines were part of the kingdom’s measure to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
Also part of the guidelines was that pilgrims will not be allowed to touch the Kaaba, the cube-shaped, black-clad shrine at Makkah’s Grand Mosque and that they are banned from sharing personal items such as clothes, phones, and towels.
“Buses transporting pilgrims from one holy site to another must be occupied at 50-per-cent capacity, as each pilgrim will be assigned the same seat throughout the Hajj. Also, at restaurants, only pre-packaged meals would be available as well as single-use bottles filled with water from the holy Zamzam well.
“Starting from July 19 until August 2, 2020 access to Hajj sites at Mina, Muzdalifah, and Arafat will be limited to those with Hajj permits, and wearing masks will be mandatory for pilgrims and organizers,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has lauded the decision of Saudi Arabia to domestic this year’s Hajj pilgrimage amid the health threats posed by the deadly respiratory disease.
WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said the decision further puts the kingdom in good light as such sacrifices are needed to flatten the curve of the burial infections as countries start to ease some restrictions.
“This decision is another example of the hard choices that all countries must make to put health first. We understand that it was not an easy decision to make. And we also understand it is a major disappointment for many Muslims who are looking forward to making their pilgrimage this year.
“This decision was made based on a risk assessment and analysis of different scenarios in accordance with WHO’s guidance to protect the safety of pilgrims and minimize the risk of transmission. WHO supports this decision,” he said.
The kingdom has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Arab world, with more than 200,000 infections.