Saudi Urges Muslims to Put Hajj Pilgrimage On Hold Due to Coronavirus Fears01 Apr 2020
Saudi Arabia has urged Muslims around the world to put on hold plans to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at the end of July, as the country tackles the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been reported by the country’s health ministry that there are 1,563 cases and 10 deaths from the virus so far.
Earlier last month, Saudi Arabia had temporarily suspended the non-obligatory pilgrimage – Umrah and enforced a lockdown on the two holy cities, Mecca and Medina to contain the spread of the virus.
The Hajj pilgrimage which is due to take place from 28th July to 2nd August is a yearly pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims should attend once in their life if they are able to do so. Millions of Muslims take part in the pilgrimage every year.
With millions attending the pilgrimage, it could be a major spot for contracting the virus as pilgrims are usually in close proximity to one another. The suspension of the pilgrimage due to uncertainty over the pandemic will be unprecedented in recent history.
The Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten has said, “ under the current circumstances, … 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.”
In the UK, thousands of Muslims attend the pilgrimage every year. The Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain has said, “there is no doubt that many will have been making plans to go this year. In these unprecedented times, it is imperative that public health is put first, and with millions of people from across the world coming to one place to perform the pilgrimage in close proximity to one another, it is sensible that we exercise a degree of caution and wait and see what the situation is closer to the time.”
The cancellation of Hajj will certainly affect bookings that have been made with Hajj tour operators and those who have made bookings should make sure that they have ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) protection.
It is expected to take many months to contain the virus. With it now present in most countries and flights being cancelled daily, Saudi authorities are yet to comment on whether the pilgrimage will take place.