The annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca next month will be restricted to 60,000 and limited to people living in Saudi Arabia because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Saudi Press Agency said on Saturday, as the authorities maintain tight restrictions on an event that usually draws millions of people from around the world every year.
The event was nearly abandoned in its entirety last year, when only about 1,000 people were able to take part in the ritual with social distancing and masks required.
The hajj, which all Muslims who are physically and financially able are supposed to complete at least once, is scheduled to begin in mid-July, and attendance will be limited to pilgrims who have been vaccinated and are between 18 and 65 years old, the press agency said.
The Saudi authorities indicated last month that the ritual would not return to normal this year. Fahad Nazer, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said on Twitter that there would be “preventative & precautionary measures that ensure the health & safety of pilgrims.”
The decision, which was attributed to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, will come as a disappointment to many Muslims, who often save up and wait for years to make the pilgrimage in the hopes of obtaining a hajj visa. Obtaining a spot can be difficult because demand is exceptionally high and Saudi Arabia limits the number of pilgrims who can attend from each country each year.
Saudi Arabia has reported 7,537 coronavirus deaths, according to a New York Times database. It recently reopened to international air travel, but also said that vaccination will be required for entry to most buildings and public transportation starting in August.
In other news from the around the world:
In France, officials granted an exemption to the country’s pandemic curfew on Friday night, allowing 5,000 fans to stay for the remainder of the French Open semifinal match between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
In the United States, fully vaccinated lawmakers and staff in the House of Representatives will no longer be required to wear a mask or maintain six feet of social distance, following updated guidance issued on Friday from the attending physician of Congress.
In Canada, 300,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine were rejected by the country’s health products regulator because of contamination issues at the U.S. plant that produced it.
In Brazil, at least a dozen players and staff on the Venezuelan national soccer team tested positive for the coronavirus a day before they were to play Brazil in the opening match of the Copa America soccer championship.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country’s president Felix Tshisekedi said on Saturday that hospitals in the country’s capital of Kinshasa were “overwhelmed,” Reuters reported. Congo on Friday reported one of its highest daily case totals since the pandemic began.