İrem UZUN -TDO- Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims to wait for more clarity on the coronavirus pandemic before planning any travel for pilgrimage, the minister for Hajj and Umrah told Al-Ekhbariya TV on Tuesday. The largest annual gathering of Muslims is scheduled to begin in late July, but the coronavirus outbreak and Saudi Arabia’s lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus has raised questions about whether it can go ahead.
“But under the current circumstances, as we are talking about the global pandemic… the kingdom is keen to protect the health of Muslims and citizens and so we have asked our brother Muslims in all countries to wait before doing (Hajj) contracts until the situation is clear,” the minister said. Saudi authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s Hajj. The kingdom’s health ministry has reported 1,563 coronavirus infections and 10 deaths from the illness so far.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world usually flock to the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina cities for the week-long ritual. It is also a significant source of income for the Gulf nation. Pilgrimage is big business for Saudi Arabia and the backbone of plans to expand visitor numbers under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious economic reform agenda.
Saudi Arabia has already suspended the smaller, year-round Umrah pilgrimage until further notice, halted all international passenger flights indefinitely and last week blocked entry and exit to several cities, including Mecca and Medina.