Saudi Arabia, Eid al-Adha and “soft” pilgrimages for the coronavirus

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Tens of thousands of Muslim faithful, mostly Saudis and foreigners residing in Saudi Arabia, went to the foot of Mount Arafat near the holy city of Mecca. As a stop on the pilgrimage (Hajj) that began last Saturday and which for the second consecutive year takes place in the shadow of strict restrictions due to the pandemic. According to the pan-Arab-Saudi TV al-Arabiya, only 60,000 faithfuls are crowded today near Mount Arafat. In the pre-Covid years, the number was around two and a half million people from all over the world.

The approximately 60,000 pilgrims were selected online, through a random extraction mechanism, from over half a million Saudis and residents of Saudi Arabia who had demonstrated that they had the primary condition: to be between 18 and 65 years old. In addition, be already vaccinated with a double dose, and do not suffer from chronic diseases. For the first time, women not accompanied by men can also participate in the pilgrimage. The decision, announced recently, has prompted many to apply for the approximately 60,000 seats available this year immediately.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, an obligation that every believer must fulfill at least once in their life if physical and finances allow it. According to the Saudi health authorities, there have been no positive cases during the first days of pilgrimage. In addition to the strict distancing measures, pilgrims are divided into small groups during each voyage stage. The authorities have also introduced an “electronic pilgrimage card,” which allows contactless access to campsites and hotels for pilgrims and transport to religious sites. In addition, robots and electronic mechanisms have been employed to distribute water bottles to pilgrims who cannot touch the Kaaba, the revered black stone at the center of the holy site of Mecca.

Arrests for false “green passes” and tests Saudi authorities have arrested over 120 people suspected of “providing or procuring” fake green passes vaccinations or negative Covid-19 tests, to access public buildings or participate in the Hajj. The site Asia News writes, citing the state agency Spa. Among the people arrested, nine officials of the Ministry of Health have already pleaded guilty. The suspicion is that the suspects used social media to advertise their services and produce fraudulent certifications. These include the change in the infected condition, the vaccination status, and the successful administration of one or two doses of the vaccine.

At least 21 people – nine Saudis and 12 with residence permits – are accused of acting as intermediaries in the fraud. Among those who have used the illicit services are 76 Saudi citizens and 16 residents. In Saudi Arabia, a nation of about 34 million people, 21 million vaccine doses have been administered to date.

The total number of infections exceeded 504,000 (over 1,200 in the last 24 hours), with a total of 8,020 victims (14 in the latest bulletin). In May, authorities introduced Covid vaccination as a mandatory prerequisite to access any public or private places, including transport. Furthermore, only employees (public and private) who have received the immunization will be able to return to the workplace.

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