Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia bars international pilgrims for Hajj
Saudi Arabia has banned international visitors from making the Islamic pilgrimage, or Hajj, this year in a bid to control coronavirus.
Only a very limited number of people currently living in the kingdom may take part, an announcement on state media says.
An estimated two million people would otherwise have visited Mecca and Medina this summer for the annual gathering.
There had been fears the Hajj might be cancelled altogether.
In normal times the pilgrimage is one of the most significant moments in the Muslim religious calendar. But only citizens from countries around the world who are already resident in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to attend this year.
The authorities say this is the only way they will be able to make plans for social distancing that will keep people safe.
Saudi Arabia has recorded 161,005 cases of infection and 1,307 deaths. It only lifted a nationwide lockdown at the weekend.
What is the 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 satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life, according to Islam.
Pilgrims gather in Mecca to stand before the structure known as the Kaaba, praising Allah (God) together.
They perform other acts of worship too, renewing their sense of purpose in the world.