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Saudi Arabia expands Hajj to 1 million pilgrims, easing Covid curbs

09 Apr, 2022
Pilgrims keeping social distance and wearing face masks, perform farewell Tawaf around the holy Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, after completing their extended Haj, "Haj Al Kabeer", during the annual Haj pilgrimage, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, July 22, 2021. Reuters/File
Pilgrims keeping social distance and wearing face masks, perform farewell Tawaf around the holy Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, after completing their extended Haj, "Haj Al Kabeer", during the annual Haj pilgrimage, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, July 22, 2021. Reuters/File

Saudi Arabia will let up to 1 million people join the Hajj pilgrimage this year, greatly expanding the key event to participants from outside the kingdom after two years of tight Covid-induced restrictions, state media said on Saturday.

Pilgrims to Mecca this year must be under age 65 and fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the ministry of Hajj and Umrah said in a statement carried by the SPA news agency.

Participants from abroad will be allowed this year but must present a recent negative Covid PCR test, and health precautions will be observed, it said.

Last year, the kingdom limited the annual Haj, one of Islam's five main pillars, to 60,000 domestic participants, compared to the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.

Visits to the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long Hajj, and the lesser, year-round Umrah pilgrimage, previously earned the kingdom about $12 billion a year, according to official data.