Saudi hospitals at the ready as millions of Hajj pilgrims arrive in Mecca

Hajj

Hajj

A year after a stampede killed some 2,300 people at the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi hospitals are preparing for the annual influx of visitors while authorities have begun issuing identification bracelets for those taking part.

The bracelets are an attempt to offer reassurance to some pilgrims, though their distribution has been far from systematic ahead of the formal start of the Hajj on Saturday. Each plasticised paper bracelet carries a bar code readable by smartphone that indicates the pilgrim’s identity, nationality and place of lodging in Mecca.

Saudi Arabia has announced an investigation into last year’s stampede, which happened during the Hajj “stoning of the devil” ritual. Public statements and Saudi press reports show that changes have been made to prevent overcrowding.

After the disaster – the worst in Hajj history – some foreign officials expressed concern about difficulties in identifying the dead.

Saudi officials have stuck with a death toll of 769 issued shortly after the stampede but data from authorities in more than 30 countries gave a figure almost three times higher.