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Saudi Arabia Stages Second Scaled-down Hajj of Coronavirus Era

Hajj pilgrims streamed out of the holy city of Mecca Sunday, launching the rituals of the great pilgrimage which Saudi Arabia is holding in a scaled-down form for a second year to ward off coronavirus. Saudi Arabia is allowing only 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom to take part, far from the vast crowds that descend on Mecca in normal times, when the ritual draws some 2.5 million pilgrims.

Since Saturday, groups of pilgrims have been performing the "tawaf" at Mecca's Grand Mosque, circling the Kaaba, a large cubic structure draped in golden-embroidered black cloth towards which Muslims around the world pray. After that, pilgrims have been making their way to the Valley of Mina, where they will spend the night.

"46,000 pilgrims have arrived in Mina," Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdelfattah bin Suleiman Mashat told AFP on Sunday morning.

"The number of women participating in the Hajj this year exceeds 40 percent," he added. Mina sits in a narrow valley surrounded by rocky mountains, and is transformed each year into a vast encampment for pilgrims.

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