Sunday, October 4, 2020

Mecca reopens for limited ‘umrah’ pilgrimage

Mask-clad Muslims circled Islam’s holiest site along socially distanced paths on Sunday, as Saudi authorities partially resumed the year-round umrah pilgrimage amid extensive health precautions after seven-month coronavirus hiatus.

Thousands of worshippers entered the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca in batches to perform the ritual of circling the sacred Kaaba, a cubic structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.

The umrah, the pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time, usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year but it was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It will be revived in three phases, with Saudi Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten saying last week that 6,000 pilgrims per day will be allowed in the first stage to perform the umrah “meticulously and within a specified period of time”.

A raft of precautions have been adopted to ward off any outbreaks during the umrah, according to state media.

The revered Black Stone in the eastern corner of the Kaaba -- which it is customary but not mandatory to touch during the pilgrimage will be out of reach, while the Grand Mosque will be sterilised before and after each group of worshippers.

Each group of 20 or 25 pilgrims will be accompanied by a health worker and medical teams will be on the ground in case of an emergency, Benten said.

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