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Muslim pilgrims wearing face masks and keeping social distance perform Tawaf around Kaaba during the annual hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia July 31, 2020. This year's hajj will take place under similar rules.SAUDI PRESS AGENCY/Reuters

Saudi Arabia has restricted the annual hajj pilgrimage to its own citizens and residents for the second year running in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the state Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

Only people aged between 18 and 65 who have been vaccinated or immunized against the virus, and are free of chronic diseases, will be able to take part, the ministry that manages the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca said in a statement carried by SPA.

It also set a maximum of 60,000 participants.

“The decision (was made) to guarantee the safety of hajj amid uncertainty over the coronavirus,” the kingdom’s health minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said in a televised news conference carried by SPA.

“Despite the availability of vaccine, there is uncertainty over the virus and some countries still record high numbers of COVID cases, the other challenge is the different variants of the virus, hence came the decision to restrict hajj,” al-Rabiah said.

The minister said only approved COVID vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will be valid for the hajj.

Sources told Reuters in May a plan was being considered to bar overseas pilgrims from performing hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

Before the pandemic enforced social distancing globally, some 2.5 million pilgrims used to visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long hajj, and the lesser, year-round umrah pilgrimage, which altogether earned the kingdom about US$12-billion a year, according to official data.