Pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia for first day of Hajj, as COVID-19 reshapes experience

Hajj pilgrims, wearing face masks and moving in small groups after days in isolation, began arriving at Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday.

But this year, worshippers are walking apart instead of praying shoulder-to-shoulder as the coronavirus pandemic reshapes the holy experience.

They move in small groups of 20. Around 1,000 people already residing in Saudi Arabia were selected to take part in the Hajj this year.

Two-thirds are foreign residents from among the 160 different nationalities that would have normally been represented at the Hajj.

All pilgrims had to be between the ages of 20 and 50 with no terminal illnesses and showing no symptoms of the coronavirus. They will be required to quarantine for a week afterwards.

It is the first time in nearly a century of Saudi rule over Mecca that people from outside the kingdom will not take part in the five-day pilgrimage, which is a once-in-a-lifetime requirement of Muslims.

On Thursday the pilgrims will travel to Arafat to listen to the sermon, the pinnacle of Hajj. They then go to Muzdalifah and stay overnight, before returning to Mina for the Jamarat ritual.

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