The Hajj and COVID-19: How the Pandemic Shaped the World's Largest Religious Gathering

Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2021 Jan 11;104(3):797-799. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.20-1563.


The Hajj pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, is held in Saudi Arabia in the second week of Dhu'l-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. It is one of the world's largest mass gatherings, constituting more than 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims from more than 180 countries. The COVID-19 pandemic posed a significant public health threat for such mass gatherings. Thus, a health risk assessment for the 2020 Hajj was held by the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health and the WHO Collaborating Centre for Mass Gatherings Medicine, which concluded that foreign pilgrims should be excluded from the 2020 Hajj and that the number of pilgrims should be significantly reduced. Timely decisions allowed the Saudi government to conduct the Hajj, despite an initial postponement. However, the number of pilgrims was significantly downscaled, and extensive new protocols were set in place because of the pandemic. This article aims to shed light on the challenges faced and efforts made by Saudi Arabia to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during the religious proceedings of the Hajj.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Humans
  • Islam*
  • Mass Gatherings*
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Health / methods*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification
  • Saudi Arabia / epidemiology
  • Travel*
  • Young Adult