Every year, the annual Hajj pilgrimage brings millions of Muslims to the holy city of Mecca. This year, however, the heavy crowds that usually descend upon one of Islam's holiest shrines gave way to a few thousand pilgrims maintaining social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Striking images that have gone viral online show the difference between Hajj in the time of COVID-19 and those of earlier years.
The Hajj, which began on Wednesday, is one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime. According to CNN, over 2 million pilgrims normally attend the Hajj - a pilgrimage made to the Kaaba in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This year, only up to 10,000 people already residing in Saudi Arabia were allowed to attend a scaled-down Hajj.
Photos show the worshipers at Hajj circumambulating the Kaaba - the sacred stone structure at the centre of the Grand Mosque - while maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks.
The pics are in stark contrast to scenes from earlier years, which typically feature large crowds. According to Al Jazeera, unlike past years, pilgrims this time were also not allowed to touch the Kaaba.
Other safety measures were also in place - with only people between the ages of 20 to 50 allowed to attend the Hajj, and workers sanitising the mosque regularly.
The safety measures were introduced keeping in mind the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has infected more than 17 million people worldwide.
"Holding the ritual in the shadow of this pandemic... required reducing the numbers of pilgrims, but it obliged various official agencies to put in double efforts," 84-year-old King Salman said in a speech read out on state television by acting media minister Majid Al-Qasabi, according to AFP.
"The Hajj this year was restricted to a very limited number of people from multiple nationalities, ensuring the ritual was completed despite the difficult circumstances," he said.Click for more trending news