RIYADH: In a significant development, Saudi Arabia has now made the COVID vaccine mandatory for the pilgrims around the world coming for Haj this year. According to reports, Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry has issued an order ruling that only those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to attend the Haj this year.
According to Saudi newspaper Okaz, the Health Ministry order said, "The Covid-19 vaccine is mandatory for those willing to come to the haj and will be one of the main conditions (for receiving a permit to come)."
A circular in this regard was signed by the country’s health minister. Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and its peaceful organisation of the Haj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.
In 2020, the kingdom dramatically reduced the number of pilgrims to around 1,000 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first time in modern times.
Haj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, is a major source of income for the Saudi government.
The congregation of millions of pilgrims from around the world can be a major cause of coronavirus transmission. In the past, worshippers have returned home with respiratory and other diseases.
According to AL JAZEERA, in the same circular, Saudi Minister of Health Dr Tawfiq al-Rabiah said the government must be prepared to “secure the manpower required to operate the health facilities in Mecca and Medina”.
These facilities will be stationed at entry points for pilgrims, he said, in addition to a formation of a vaccination committee for pilgrims within Saudi Arabia.
It may be noted that the Government of India had recently announced that the coronavirus vaccine will be administered to those going for Haj pilgrimage from India. The last date for submission of application forms for Haj 2021 is January 10, Union Minister MA Naqvi had said.
Naqvi made this announcement after chairing a meeting of the Haj Committee of India officials and Haj Group organisers at Haj House in south Mumbai. The last date for submission of application forms for Haj 2021 is January 10, the Minister said.