Saudi Arabia tells Muslims to put Hajj plans on hold amid coronavirus crisis

  • News Desk, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-04-01 12:26:49 BdST

Saudi Arabia has asked Muslim pilgrims to wait until there is more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic before planning to attend the annual Hajj, Al Jazeera reports.

The Minister for Hajj and Umrah made the call on state TV on Tuesday, it said.

Earlier, the kingdom suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage over fears of the new coronavirus spreading to Islam's holiest cities in an unprecedented move that cast doubts over the annual Hajj.

Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world usually flock to the cities of Makkah and Madinah for the week-long ritual scheduled to begin in late July. The pilgrimage is also a significant source of income for the kingdom.

"Saudi Arabia is fully ready to serve pilgrims and Umrah seekers," Minister Mohammed Saleh Benten told the state-run Al-Ekhbariya television.

"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."

Saudi Arabia has also halted all international passenger flights indefinitely and last week blocked entry and exit to several cities, including Mecca and Medina.

FILE PHOTO: Muslim pilgrims wear protective face masks, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, as they pray at Kaaba in the Grand mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia March 3, 2020. REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Muslim pilgrims wear protective face masks, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, as they pray at Kaaba in the Grand mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia March 3, 2020. REUTERS

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.

Cancelling the Hajj would be unprecedented in modern times, but curbing attendance from high-risk areas has happened before, including in recent years during the Ebola outbreak.

To date, the kingdom has reported just over 1,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and 10 deaths. Globally, more than 825,000 people have been infected with over 40,000 deaths recorded.