ISLAMABAD              -          With coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases still surging throughout the world, Saudi Arabia has limited the number of pilgrims to performing this year’s Hajj and put several protocols in place.

The Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Weqaya) has set the protocols to decrease the infection rate and ensure pilgrims’ safety.

Saudi Health Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah announced earlier last month that the number of pilgrims would be limited this year. Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Benten said that the decision to limit numbers “aims to protect people above everything else, which has been the priority of the Kingdom since the start of the pandemic," Arab News reported.

The long list of protocols affects all workers and pilgrims this year. From July 19, authorities will prohibit all entry into Mina, Muzdalifa, and Arafat without permits.

Guides and awareness signs must be placed in all areas and written in various languages that include COVID-19 infection warnings, hand washing protocols, sneezing and coughing etiquette, and the use of hand sanitizers.

Organizers must distribute pilgrims in the Tawaf area around the Kaaba to decrease overcrowding while adhering to a 1.5-meter distance between each person. Organizers at the Holy Mosque must ensure that pilgrims are distributed on all floors of the Saee (ritual walking between Safa and Marwa) and place track lines to maintain social distancing while ensuring that the grounds around the Kaaba and Saee are sanitized by cleaning crews before and after each group performing Tawaf.

Touching the Holy Kaaba and Black Stone will be prohibited, barriers will be set to prevent reaching the sites and the mosque’s carpets are to be removed to allow pilgrims to use their personal prayer rugs instead to decrease the chances of the spread of any infection.