Mohammad Benten, Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Hajj and Umrah, called on Muslims to wait until the current situation regarding the coronavirus pandemic stabilises before planning their hajj pilgrimage.
“We have asked our Muslim brothers around the world to wait” on making Hajj plans “until there is clarity,” Benten told state-run Al Ekhbariya TV.
Saudi Arabia reported 110 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the country’s total number of infections to 1,563. Until now, the country has seen 10 deaths due to the virus. Halting the Hajj, which attracts millions of pilgrims each year, would be unprecedented.
Saudi Arabia has already suspended the smaller, year-round umrah pilgrimage until further notice, and halted all international passenger flights indefinitely. It further blocked all entry and exit to several cities, including Mecca and Medina.
The country has put the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina on lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading.
The hajj pilgrimage is scheduled to begin in late July, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has hindered preparations, and put pilgrim attendance in doubt.
Millions of pilgrims from around the world head to Mecca and Medina for the week-long, once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage. It is also a major source of income for the kingdom, and is the backbone for plans to expand visitor numbers under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious economic reform agenda.