scaled-down Hajj pilgrimage begins in Saudi Arabia
The annual Hajj pilgrimage performed by Muslims around the world has started in Saudi Arabia, drastically reduced due to the coronavirus.
International visitors have been banned from traveling to Mecca to try to curb the pandemic.
Only 10 pilgrims are expected, compared to around 000 million usually.
The vast majority normally come from abroad, but this year the only foreigners allowed to participate are those residing in the kingdom.
Participants were subjected to temperature checks and virus tests upon arriving in Mecca over the weekend, the AFP news agency reports.
The faithful will also have to quarantine before and after the pilgrimage. Face masks will be mandatory at all times.
In an interview this week with Saudi Arabian-funded al-Arabiya TV, the Minister of Pilgrimages, Mohammed Saleh Binten, said the pilgrims were being quarantined at their homes before four more days of quarantine at hotels in Mecca.
The kingdom has recorded more than 270000 cases with nearly 3000 deaths, one of the largest epidemics in the Middle East.
The country only lifted a national lockdown last month . Tough restrictions to curb the spread of infections took effect in March, including 24-hour curfews in most cities.
What is Hajj?
Making the pilgrimage at least once is one of the five pillars of Islam - the five obligations that every Muslim, who is in good health and can afford it, must fulfill in order to live a good and responsible life, according to the Islam.
The Kaaba, a large cube-shaped structure in the Grand Mosque of Mecca considered by Muslims to be the holiest point on Earth, was surrounded by groups praising Allah on Wednesday.
Other acts of worship will also be performed as pilgrims renew their sense of purpose in the world.