International SOS, the world’s leading medical and security services company, is providing advice on health preparations for Hajj in Saudi Arabia, amidst COVID-19 pandemic. This year, with Hajj expected to commence between 17 July and 22 July, the Ministry of Hajj announced that pilgrimage will be permitted to 60,000 people, for residents of all nationalities and citizens inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Performing the Hajj rituals for this year will be limited to those between the ages of 18-65, who are free of chronic diseases and have been vaccinated.
In a normal year, more than 3 million foreign and domestic pilgrims are expected to perform their religious duties in Mecca, Mina, Arafat & Muzdalifah, with many also travelling to Medina in the weeks before and after the pilgrimage. Last year, the kingdom closed its borders to contain the spread of Covid-19 and Hajj was restricted to 1,000 domestic pilgrims.
Dr Olivier Barles, Regional Medical Director at International SOS in Dubai, advises:
“In the context of COVID-19 and 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. Therefore, they are still advised to keep safe distance between each other, to wear face masks and gloves 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). Wellness measures to cope with environmental issues, such as the extreme heat should also be implemented. Then, 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.“
Mazen Jomaa, Regional Security Manager at International SOS in Dubai, said:
“Pilgrims undertaking Hajj this year, who are already residing in the Kingdom, should ensure they have taken the necessary precautions, obtained the correct approvals and follow the government regulations closely. Further, any domestic movements to Mecca, Mina and Muzdalifa should be completed with a trusted pilgrimage organiser that has the appropriate vehicles in place.”
International SOS top advice for Hajj during COVID-19:
- Wear a face mask and gloves at all times and maintain a distance of at least 2 metres between yourself and others.
- It is important to follow good hygiene measures including regularly washing your hands and disposing of used masks and gloves safely and immediately.
- Ensure you comply fully with all government requirements.
- Ensure any health issues are stabilised. If you need any medications, pack enough for the trip, with some extra in case of delays.
- Save emergency contacts on your mobile phone and make sure it is charged (police, ambulance, embassy, local contacts).
- Monitor the situation – remain abreast of the latest news and recommendations.
- Exercise heightened caution with regards to religious and cultural sensitivities, especially on social media platforms and respect all local legal, religious and cultural conventions at all times
- Expect tighter security at transport hubs as well as increased traffic and congestion.
- If conducting the pilgrimage, comply with your hajj operator’s instructions, specifically during the stoning rituals. There are set times for different operators organised by Saudi Authorities to minimise the potential for overcrowding. While completing your pilgrimage, be mindful of your belongings when moving throughout the crowds.
- Stay well hydrated to avoid heatstroke. Select safer food and beverages – Use bottled water. Wash fruits and vegetables well. Ensure any meat is thoroughly cooked, avoid non-pasteurised dairy items.
- Pay attention to people who may look sick; again, keep your distance wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
- Avoid direct contact with animals, including camels. A potentially severe illness caused by another Coronavirus, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) can be present in camels and their products.