Saudi Arabia unveils health guidelines for Hajj as coronavirus pandemic continues
Riyadh said it would allow only around a thousand Muslim pilgrims already present in the kingdom to participate in this year's Hajj - scheduled for the end of July - a far cry from the 2.5 million who attended the five-day pilgrimage last year.
The country’s National Centre for Disease Prevention and Control released on Monday general guidelines for both pilgrims and workers attending the Hajj season.
Protocols included mandatory face coverings at entry to the holy sites and during ritual performance, and Muslim pilgrims will also be banned from touching the Kaaba stone, according to health officials.
Social distancing rules will be applied during prayers and congregations will not be permitted.
Pilgrims will be tested for coronavirus before arriving in the holy city of Mecca and are required to quarantine at home after the ritual, SPA news agency reported.
Last month, Saudi Arabia announced it would hold a "very limited" Hajj, a decision fraught with political and economic peril as it battles a coronavirus surge.
The decision to exclude pilgrims arriving from outside Saudi Arabia is a first in the kingdom's modern history and has sparked disappointment among Muslims worldwide, although many accepted it was necessary due to the health risks involved.
Saudi Arabia has so far reported more than 213,000 coronavirus infections - the highest in the Gulf - and nearly 2,000 deaths.