Saudi Arabia expands haj to 1 million pilgrims, easing Covid-19 curbs

Pilgrims to Mecca this year must be under age 65 and fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. PHOTO: REUTERS

RIYADH (REUTERS) - Saudi Arabia will let up to one million people join the haj pilgrimage this year, greatly expanding the key event to participants from outside the kingdom after two years of tight Covid-19 restrictions, state media said on Saturday (April 9).

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has been working closely with authorities from Saudi Arabia and will share details once available, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli. 

Pilgrims to Mecca this year must be under age 65 and fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the ministry of Hajj and Umrah said in a statement carried by the SPA news agency.

Participants from abroad will be allowed this year but must present a recent negative Covid-19 PCR test, and health precautions will be observed, it said.

Last year, the kingdom limited the annual haj, one of Islam's five main pillars, to 60,000 domestic participants, compared to the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.

Mr Masagos said in a Facebook post on Saturday that Muis has not received details on Singapore's quota for this year's haj, The Straits Times reported.

He said: "Given the reduced number of pilgrims allowed to perform the Haj as compared to about 2.5 million previously, it is likely that the quotas allocated to each country will also be reduced.

"Hence, as I mentioned after my recent meeting with Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister, His Excellency Dr Tawfiq bin Fawzan bin Muhammad Al Rabiah, we should remain flexible and be prepared to make adjustments as more details are released along the way."

Mr Masagos, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for Health, was in the Kingdom in March on a work visit where he discussed the haj situation with Saudi authorities. 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Muis did not send Singaporean pilgrims for the haj in 2020 and 2021. 

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.