MECCA, Saudi Arabia: Sixty-thousand Saudi pilgrims are to participate in the annual haj, though foreigners will not be allowed into Saudi Arabia due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.
This was the second year that foreigners were barred from Mecca. Also, only vaccinated Saudis could attend this year.
While 60,000 Saudis performed the rite, the number of participants does not compare to past years, including 2019 when 2.5 million Muslims arrived for the haj.
Saudi Arabia hosts Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, and the country works to ensure a peaceful haj, which has, in the past, experienced stampedes, fires and riots.
To contain the Covid virus, authorities have limited the pilgrims to only those age 18 to 65 who have been fully vaccinated or immunized against the virus, as well as those who do not suffer from chronic diseases.
This year, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and in its courtyard, robots are being used to disinfect the areas, as well as to distribute water.
Also, pilgrims must pass before thermal cameras to measure their temperatures. Additionally, some 3,000 electric carts have been provided for pilgrims, who also wear electronic identification bracelets connected to GPS.
Only small groups circle the Kaaba - a stone structure that is the most sacred in Islam and marks the direction Muslims face to pray - and all wear face masks.
Saudi Arabia maintains a staff of 500 health volunteers to offer medical assistance and 62 screens were installed to broadcast health messages in many languages.