Saudi Arabia on Monday announced it would hold a “very limited” Hajj this year owing to the coronavirus pandemic, with pilgrims already in the kingdom allowed to take part.
The decision, fraught with political and economic peril, comes as Saudi Arabia struggles to contain the virus amid a new spike in daily cases and deaths.
“Hajj for this year (1441 H/2020 AD) will be held whereby a very limited number of pilgrims from various nationalities who already resident in Saudi Arabia, would be able to perform it,” a statement by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said.
“The decision is taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols.”
Noorul Haq Qadri, the federal minister for religious affairs, has called an emergency meeting today (Tuesday) to discuss how to pay back the Hajj pilgrims from Pakistan.
One thousand pilgrims residing in the kingdom will perform the Hajj this year, a minister said Tuesday. “The number of pilgrims will be around 1,000, maybe less, maybe a little more,” Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten told reporters.
The pilgrimage, scheduled for the end of July, will be limited to those below 65 years of age and with no chronic illnesses, Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said.
The pilgrims will be tested for coronavirus before arriving in the holy city of Mecca and will be required to quarantine at home after the ritual, Rabiah added
The Hajj, a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, represents a major potential source of contagion as it packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites.
Any decision to limit the event risks annoying Muslim hardliners for whom religion trumps health concerns.
A full-scale Hajj, which last year drew about 2.5 million pilgrims, was unlikely after authorities advised Muslims in late March to defer preparations due to the fast-spreading disease.
Earlier this month, Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, emerged as one of the first countries to withdraw from the pilgrimage after pressing Riyadh for clarity, with a minister calling it a “very bitter and difficult decision”. Malaysia, Senegal and Singapore followed suit with similar announcements.