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Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Bin Taher tours pilgrim facilities in the holy sites. Image Credit: SPA

Cairo: Saudi Arabia has put in place “integrated preparations” for providing safe and smooth services to pilgrims performing this year’s Hajj, a Saudi government minister has said.

Limited numbers of around 10,000 pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia will attend the Hajj starting next week to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

“All preparations are integrated in the form of a comprehensive executive plan joined by all security, health and service agencies,” Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Bin Taher said after touring facilities for accommodating pilgrims in the holy sites.

He added that the Saudi government is keen to hold the Hajj rituals in line with the highest health standards.

“Exceptional plans have been drawn up for Hajj, including the provision of the best health services and pilgrim grouping handling that complies with all precautions set by the Health Ministry. These precautions will be perfectly observed to protect guests of Allah,” the minister told Saudi news agency SPA.

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The minister toured multiple facilities. Image Credit: SPA

This year’s Hajj is due to begin on July 29 and climax the following day on the Mount Arafat near Mecca.

Earlier this week, Saudi authorities started prohibiting people without permits from entering the holy sites in Mecca, Muzdalifah, Arafat and Mina under a stringent security plan.

Violations are punishable by a fine of SR10,000 that will be doubled in case of repetition.

Saudi Arabia has announced that 70 per cent of this year’s pilgrims will be expatriate residents while the remaining 30 per cent will be Saudis. The expatriates wishing to perform this year’s Hajj had to meet certain health conditions. They should not be sufferers of any chronic diseases, and provide a negative PCR test proving that they are free of coronavirus. The applicants should not have previously performed the Hajj, should be aged between 20 to 50 years, and sign a pledge to adhering to the quarantine period before and after performing the Hajj rituals.

The 30 per cent of Saudi pilgrims are limited to Saudi health practitioners and security men who have recovered from COVID-19. They will be selected from a database of recovered patients, in recognition of their role during the battle against the virus provided they meet the related health criteria.

Last month, Saudi Arabia announced holding this year’s Hajj with a very limited number, confined to Saudis and non-Saudis of all nationalities who are already residing in the kingdom.

More than 2 million Muslims usually perform the Hajj every year. The Hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars. Muslims are expected to perform it at least once in their lives if they can afford it and are physically able.