MAKKAH: A scaled-down Hajj with only just 1,000 pilgrims due to the COVID-19 pandemic will begin on Wednesday for the first time in modern history.

The foreign press are barred from this year's Hajj, usually a huge global media event, as the government tightens access to the holy city of Mecca and puts in place strict health restrictions to prevent a virus outbreak during the five-day pilgrimage — a key pillar of Islam.

Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 260,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, while the number of declared global infections exceeded 16 million on Sunday.