Saudi Arabia’s Hajj minister tells Muslims to ‘hold off on your Hajj plans’

Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims to wait for more clarity on the coronavirus pandemic before planning any travel for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage.

“We’ve asked the world not to rush with regards to Hajj groups until the path of the epidemic becomes clear, keeping in mind the safety of pilgrims and public health as a priority,”Dr. Muhammad Salih bin Taher Banten said.

“We have coordinated with the Ministry of Health an inspection tour of hotels that were used for health isolation to ensure that all services and care are provided to pilgrims,” he added.

Hajj is the largest annual gathering of Muslims in Saudi Arabia, 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.

Some 2.5 million pilgrims globally and 1.5 million Emirates annually congregate to the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Medina each year for the Hajj pilgrimage, some of whom will have been saving their whole lives for this one opportunity.

The worry for the pilgrims from poorer nations, is they will not be able to manage a last minute dash to Hajj, especially with the financial cost of such a trip. The impact of global lockdowns is also impacting their livelihoods. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, every muslim aspires to complete it.

The Kingdom has already suspended Umrah pilgrimage until further notice, halted all international passenger flights indefinitely and last week blocked entry and exit to several cities, including Makkah and Madinah.

There have been 10 deaths reported among 1,563 cases of coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, which has infected some 800,000 people globally and killed more than 40,000.

More than 799,800 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 38,854 have died, while infections have been reported in more than 200 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

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