RIYADH (Middle East Eye) – Saudi Arabia welcomed its first batch of foreign Hajj pilgrims since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which had prompted authorities to sharply restrict numbers for the annual pilgrimage.
Mohammed al-Bijawi, from the country’s Hajj ministry, told the state-run Al-Ekhbariya channel on Sunday: “Today we received the first group of this year’s pilgrims from Indonesia, and the flights will continue from Malaysia and India.
“Today we are happy to receive the guests of God from outside the kingdom, after a two-year interruption due to the pandemic.”
The group from Indonesia landed in the city of Medina and was set to travel south to the holy city of Mecca in the coming weeks to prepare for Hajj next month.
As the pandemic began in 2020, Saudi authorities announced they would let only 1,000 pilgrims participate.
In 2021, the number was increased to 60,000 fully vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents chosen through a lottery.
Hajj is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings. Around 2.5 million people took part in 2019.
Hosting Hajj is a significant source of revenue for the kingdom, bringing in around $12bn annually.
Barring overseas pilgrims as a Covid-19 precaution caused deep disappointment among Muslims worldwide.
However, Saudi Arabia announced in April that it would permit one million Muslims, including people outside of the country, to participate in this year’s pilgrimage, which will take place in July.
This year’s pilgrimage will be limited to vaccinated Muslims under the age of 65, the Hajj ministry said.
Those outside Saudi Arabia, who must apply for Hajj visas, are required to submit a negative Covid-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of travel.