Saudi Arabia’s authorities are considering cancelling the Haj season for the first time since the establishment of the Kingdom in 1932 after the number of coronavirus infections exceeded 100,000, a senior official in the Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umrah said.
“The case has been carefully studied and various scenarios are being considered. A formal decision will be taken within a week,” the official said.
Coronavirus records in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia reported a record jump in new coronavirus cases on Sunday, with 4,233 more people tested positive for COVID-19, against the record highest of Friday’s 3,921 cases.
The new cases are considered the record highest cases since the outbreak of the pandemic in the Kingdom.
The Health Ministry said that 40 more people succumbed to the virus during the past 24 hours, raising the total number of COVID-19 infections to 127,541, while the virus-related fatalities have risen 972 in the Kingdom.
Officials thinking of Cancelling Haj, various scenarios considered
The pilgrimage, which is scheduled for late July this year, is one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, with more than two million pilgrims visiting the Kingdom to perform Islamic rituals.
Saudi Arabia could consider drastically cutting the number of pilgrims arriving for Haj.
In addition to its importance in Islam, the pilgrimage is also a major source of foreign revenue for Riyadh. “Official data show Haj and the lesser, year-round Umrah pilgrimage earn the Kingdom about $12 billion a year,” a news agency reported. Moreover, over 35 per cent of the Kingdom’s new cases were reported in Riyadh with 1,735 infections, followed by Jeddah with 352 new cases.
In March, as cases of COVID-19 started to increase, Saudi Arabia asked countries to put on hold their Haj plans and suspended the Umrah pilgrimage.
Two officials were quoted saying Saudi Arabia could grant permission for only “symbolic numbers” of pilgrims this year for Haj, with restrictions such as a ban on the elderly and additional health checks.
A news agency reported, “With strict procedures, authorities think it may be possible to allow in up to 20 per cent of each country’s regular quota of pilgrims.”
A decision to cancel or even scale down the Haj would be a blow to Saudi Arabia, given its plans to boost its capacity for religious tourism. “An economic reform plan of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to increase Umrah and Haj capacity to 30 million pilgrims annually and generate $13.32 billion of revenues by 2030,” a news agency reported.