Saudi Arabia expands Haj to 1 mln pilgrims, easing COVID curbs

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Saudi Arabia will let up to 1 million people join the Haj pilgrimage this year, greatly expanding the key event to participants from outside the kingdom after two years of tight COVID 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 Haj, and the lesser, year-round Umrah pilgrimage, previously earned the kingdom about $12 billion a year, according to official data.

Reuters

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