Warnings issued as Hajj reopens to international pilgrims

The one million Muslims preparing to undertake the Hajj have been warned they need to take extra precautions this year.

After three years international pilgrims are once again allowed to undertake the Hajj, a journey to Mecca which is to be completed at least once in the life of every Muslim.

This year’s Hajj will take place from 7-12 July and health and security risk management services company, International SOS, has warned pilgrim face a range of risks, particularly as the three year absence has seen the number of applications to take part this year leap.

The organisation warned: “This is the first Hajj season since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019-2020 in which foreign nationals residing outside of the kingdom will be permitted to participate in. All pilgrims must present proof of vaccination status and a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure for the kingdom.”

However, Dr Olivier Barles, regional medical director at International SOS in Dubai, said the threat of COVID and other viruses this year remains real.

“Even if the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be under control, from end-May to early June a certain re-occurrence of new cases has been noticed in many countries worldwide, including in Saudi Arabia,” he explained. “Hence, even for those that have been fully vaccinated, pilgrims should continue to adhere to personal precautionary measures in order to best protect themselves from the potential threat all the COVID-19 variants. They are still advised to keep safe distance between each other, to wear face masks and maintain a high degree of personal hygiene by washing hands frequently.

“It is also important to follow the regulations outlined by the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia and to pay attention to other known diseases prevalent in the region, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) that can be managed with practical attention to hygiene.

“Wellness measures to cope with environmental issues, such as the extreme heat should also be implemented. Always choose clean, well-cooked food and safe beverages, including bottled water and pasteurised milk. Also, take measures to stay hydrated and cool to avoid heat-related illnesses.”

Pilgrims have been issued with a range of advice amid fears that unless precautions are taken, they may contract COVID or MERS-CoV before returning to their home nations.

Sally Llewellyn, regional security director at International SOS in Dubai, added: “Pilgrims undertaking Hajj should closely follow government directives and ensure they have obtained the correct approvals prior to departure. Utilise the services of a government-approved and trusted pilgrimage organiser that has the appropriate vehicles in place. Visitors to Saudi Arabia who are not participating in Hajj should be mindful of heightened cultural sensitivities and abide by all movement restrictions, including restricted access to select airports.”