The great annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca takes on a special hue this year due to the coronavirus. As the first waves of pilgrims arrive in the kingdom in limited numbers, local health workers are on the warpath.
Saudi authorities have confirmed that visitors have begun to flock to the holy city of Makkah, as reported on twitter by the Saudi Press Agency, the country’s national news agency. This year, they are obviously more than reduced in numbers. Typically, the figures are around 2.5 million visitors who come to take part in the multi-day ritual, including even celebrities such as rapper Diam’s and footballer Mohamed Salah.
It is a must-attend event both for its spiritual and economic importance (together with the Umrah, the “little pilgrimage”, they represent a profit of 12 million dollars, according to figures put forward by the government) but this year the Saudi government announced that it intends to restrict the pilgrimage to just a thousand people, already present in the kingdom, a first in modern history. The press, for its part, reports instead some 10,000 pilgrims. These figures are still derisory, however, if compared to the usual statistics.
Medical measures worthy of the challenge
Firstly, the Ministry of Hajj assured that only health workers and security officers who had already recovered from the virus would be allowed on site. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia has put in place a comprehensive response to deal with the potential consequences. Thus, in the country, already one of the worst affected in the region, there are field hospitals, temporary clinics, ambulances and health workers on the brink of war in the vicinity of the holy cities.
Special attention will also be paid to the heat and misters will be installed to protect pilgrims from the high temperatures that can occur at this time.
All pilgrims will receive, upon arrival, a personalized kit including a personal prayer mat, clothing, stones (for rituals), as well as personal hygiene products (razors, etc.).
Finally, travel plans have been pre-established to ensure the most optimal and secure flow management possible. To date, Saudi Arabia has more than 266,000 confirmed cases, of which more than 220,000 (82.5%) have been cured. The number of deaths currently stands at 2,733.