Covid-19 vaccination a must to perform haj, says Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry says only vaccinated pilgrims can perform ritual, does not say how many will be allowed in this year

LONDON: Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry has ruled that only people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to attend the haj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on Monday.

"The Covid-19 vaccine is mandatory for those willing to come to the haj and will be one of the main conditions (for receiving a permit to come)," the report said, citing a circular signed by Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah, Reuters reported.

The circular urged early preparations for providing the manpower needed to man health facilities during the haj rituals.

Crowds of millions of pilgrims from around the world would likely be a hotbed for virus transmission.

In the past, some worshippers have returned to their countries with respiratory and other diseases.

Saudi Arabia has not said how many people will be allowed in to perform the haj this year.

Last year's gathering was drastically scaled back to just 1,000 pilgrims who were already in the kingdom, The National reported.

Social distancing was adhered to and there were no Covid-19 cases, the media outlet said.Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and its peaceful organisation of the haj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.

Haj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, is a major source of income for the Saudi government.

The country reported 302 new cases and five deaths on Tuesday, The National reported. The kingdom has reported a total of 378,002 cases and about 6,500 deaths.