Riyadh. — Saudi Arabia wants Muslims to wait until there is more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic before planning to attend the annual hajj pilgrimage, the minister for hajj and umrah said on state TV on Tuesday.
The largest annual gathering of Muslims is scheduled to begin in late July, but the coronavirus outbreak has raised questions about whether it can or should go ahead given the risk of spreading the disease further in large gatherings, reports Middle East Monitor.
Saudi Arabia has already 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.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world usually flock to the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long ritual, which is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim.
Pilgrimage is a big privilege as well as 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.