Coronavirus: Suspend Hajj Plans For Now – Saudi Arabia Counsel Muslims

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Authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are urging Muslims to put on hold all plans concerning this year’s annual pilgrimage until they have more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic currently tormenting the world

Minister for Hajj and Umrah, Mohammed Saleh Benten told the state-run Al-Ekhbariya television (TV) on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia is fully ready to serve pilgrims and Umrah seekers, but the present circumstances have made it impossible to go ahead with hosting the annual religious ritual.

Benten said deferring preparations for the annual pilgrimage slated to start in late July is the only reasonable thing to do given the global health threat caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Minister, “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 largest annual gathering of Muslims is scheduled to commence in late July, but the coronavirus outbreak has raised concerns about whether it can, or should, go ahead given the risk of spreading the disease further in large gatherings.

Already, the Kingdom has 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.

Pilgrimage is big business for Saudi Arabia and the backbone of plans to expand visitor numbers under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s 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, Saudi Arabia has reported 10 deaths among over 1,563 confirmed coronavirus cases recorded in the country. Globally, more than 825,000 people have been infected with over 40,000 deaths recorded so far. – With agency reports

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