Very different, symbolic hajj in Saudi Arabia amid virus

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News. The Corona virus strikes again. The huh, JJ, which starts tomorrow will not allow the normal gathering of more than two million Muslims. The annual pilgrimage to Mecca is known for teeming masses of people who walk closely together, sit shoulder to shoulder to pray. And often campout and crowded tents. But this year, only an estimated 1000 people are expected to attend. Physical distancing will be enforced and masks will be required. Bloomberg's Saudi Arabia correspondent. Vivian Knee Rhyme has been covering How, huh, JJ will be different this year. She joins us Now. Welcome. Hi. Thank you so much for having me. Can you just start out by reminding us what the religious significance of the Hodges for Muslims all around the world, So the Hodja is one of the most important act that any Muslim might perform in their life. It is considered to be one of the five pillars of Islam. It is actually obligatory for every Muslim to perform the hajj once in their life, if they're able to financially and physically, so it's something that people save up for and apply for again year after year. Well, because the Saudi government is determined to make sure people are physically distanced. This year. You estimate that only about 1000 people will be in attendance tomorrow. So how are these 1000 people selected like where they from? Yeah, So one thing that had been a little bit strange that the government has been a little bit secretive about what the actual number is this year, the hedge minister has said it's between around 1000 and 10,000. We do think it's going to be probably closer to around 1000 and that includes about 30% Saudi nationals, and the other 70% are foreign citizens who reside already in Saudi Arabia, so nobody will be performing. The hajj is here coming from outside of the kingdom. They were selected through an online betting system. Most of it was about health criteria. You had to be between the ages of 20 and 50. You had to not have any chronic diseases. So everybody who was selected among the pilgrims did get a PCR test for Corona virus, and then they were isolated during a home quarantine for about a week. After which they travel to Mecca, and they've been in a hotel quarantine sort of isolated individual hotel rooms for about four days now, so they haven't even really met each other. For the most part, they communicate over WhatsApp, you know, they get their meals, the room service. It's a very different experience than it would be in a normal year when you're kind of a human sea of people from all over the world, gathering and eating and praying together. Besides, they're being dramatically fewer people this year. How do you think the high judge will feel different compared to years past? Well, I think it's just a completely different animal in a lot of ways. I mean, normally a huge part of going to Mecca and performing the pilgrimage is just that rubbing shoulders with people from all different social classes and all different nationalities. Obviously, that physical closeness has completely gone, so there's going to be social distancing markers around the Grand Mosque to ensure that people are actually you know, 1.5 meters apart, so that's a very big deal. There's also a point in the pilgrimage win. Welcome to be gathering pebbles, small stones along the route that they throw at thes three stone pillars that symbolize kind of repelling of evil, and these pebbles this year will be distributed to them in pre sealed packets, and they're sterilized, So it's a very different kind of feel there. They're also wearing these tracking bracelets insure that they complied with the quarantine, and if they stray more than a certain distance from their phone kind of urges them to reconnect to their Bluetooth, a lot of technology that's infusing this year's hajj in order to Kind of enforced that social distancing and make sure that the House doesn't become a super spreader event because Saudi Arabia, like a lot of other countries, has had a couple of different peaks of Corona virus cases, which are now on the decline and Mecca at one point was really the epicenter of Saudi

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