In Mecca, 2020 pilgrimage is one of the safest despite the pandemic

(Mecca) With a very small number of faithful and exceptional health precautions in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, this year's great pilgrimage to Mecca turns out to be paradoxically one of the safest .

France Media Agency

During the hajj, an annual pilgrimage which usually brings together several hundred thousand pilgrims from all over the world, the faithful are inevitably exposed to many viral diseases.

But in this year of pandemic and while Saudi Arabia has officially recorded close to 272 590 cases of infections, including 2300 deaths, the authorities have stepped up the protective measures , with strict health guidelines, to avoid any risk of contagion to COVID – 10.

Usually, more than two million faithful from the four corners of the world take part in the great pilgrimage, one of the great religious gatherings which makes it a real logistical and health puzzle.

This year, however, new coronavirus requires, only a few 10 00 0 faithful, of various nationalities, but residing in Saudi Arabia, were allowed to perform this ritual, l one of the five pillars of Islam.

They only represent 0.4% of the 2.5 million pilgrims who performed the hajj last year.

Alia al-Dulaimi, a Kuwaiti woman, told AFP that she suffered from a strong cough that lasted three months after making the pilgrimage in 2003.

“I couldn't even get near the Kaaba at the time because of the large number of people who wanted to touch it,” she explains.

The Kaaba is a cubic structure erected in the center of the Great Mosque of Mecca to which the Muslim faithful turn to pray.

“I would have liked to be in Mecca this year to see the new sanitary measures”, says M me Dulaimi.

Due to the pandemic, pilgrims are not allowed to touch the Kaaba.

Despite the pandemic, many pilgrims say they feel safer this year in the face of disease and the risk of accidents.

A gigantic stampede had left 2300 dead among the pilgrims in 2003 during the hajj, which has seen a series of dramas over the years.

“Real opportunity”

Far from the images of human waves usually marking the beginning of the rites, on Wednesday pilgrims performed the “tawaf”, which consists of turning around the Kaaba, in small groups, keeping a distance from each other, wearing a mask and following marks on the white marble square.

Many maintenance teams, wearing uniforms resembling those of hospital staff, were constantly cleaning and disinfecting the holy place.

Upon their arrival in Mecca last weekend, the pilgrims were subjected to temperature measurements, COVID screenings – 10 and placed in quarantine in hotels.

The authorities distributed sterilized kits to pilgrims: stones for Satan's stoning ritual, masks, rugs, umbrellas, awareness manuals, “ihram”, seamless white fabric worn by the faithful.

“Preventive measures are observed at all times and, God willing, the rites of the hajj will be safe and beneficial”, declared the official spokesperson of the Directorate of Health of Mecca, Hamad ben Fayhan, on the television.

Many hospitals, mobile clinics and ambulances are in place to meet the needs of pilgrims, according to the Hajj Ministry.

Asif Ahmed, professor at the British Aston School of Medicine, considers hajj this year “safe” due to the preventive measures.

“The goal was to prevent (a spread) of the coronavirus epidemic, and it seems to be working,” he told AFP.

In the Gulf country most affected by the pandemic, the Ministry of Health assured Wednesday that no case of infection with the new coronavirus had been detected among the pilgrims.

The hajj of 2015 is “a real opportunity for the Saudi authorities to measure the effect of wearing a mask on limiting the spread many viral and bacterial diseases ”, underlines for his part the doctor specializing in communicable diseases, Ghanem al-Hujailan.