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Hajj pilgrims make trek to Mount Arafat amid COVID-19 safeguards

Muslim pilgrims pray during the Hajj at Mount Arafat near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on August 10, 2019. Visitors to the holy site have been severely restricted this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mass visits to the site began Thursday. File Photo by EPA-EFE
Muslim pilgrims pray during the Hajj at Mount Arafat near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on August 10, 2019. Visitors to the holy site have been severely restricted this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mass visits to the site began Thursday. File Photo by EPA-EFE

July 30 (UPI) -- Doctor-staffed clinics were put into service on the plains of Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia to handle Hajj pilgrims converging there Thursday.

The five-day Hajj, the most sacred pilgrimage of the Muslim faith that began Wednesday, has been limited to a few thousand Saudi worshipers this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, the pilgrimage draws millions to holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

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Saudi officials have built a camp to isolate worshipers diagnosed with COVID-19 while security at Mount Arafat will be provided for pilgrims who arrive at the holy location.

"All parties involved are carrying out their tasks to handle any risks according to the general plan for the Haj pilgrimage," Maj. Gen. Hamoud Al Faraj, the commander of the Civil Defense for Hajj, said.

A spokesman for the Hajj Security Forces Command said Thursday authorities have so far apprehended nearly 1,000 people for violating entry instructions to Hajj holy sites.

Officials said no pilgrims have yet tested positive.

"I've been dreaming of Hajj ever since I came here and it's finally happening," said first-time pilgrim Hamide Halimi, who's lived in Riyadh for six years. "In my group, we're 20-something women and throughout this experience, I've been with women only. ... So it's an amazing sisterhood experience."

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According to Islam, Mount Arafat is where the prophet Muhammad stood and delivered his Farewell Sermon in the 7th century.

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