Saudi Arabia has announced that it will make a decision on whether to cancel this year’s Hajj within a week.
The development comes as a another major Muslim nation, Malaysia, said that it would prohibit its pilgrims form making Hajj over coronavirus fears.
The Financial Times reported that a senior official from Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah ministry told them: “The issue has been carefully studied and different scenarios are being considered. An official decision will be made within one week… All options are on the table but the priority is for the health and safety of pilgrims.”
It is believed that the Saudi authorities are considering whether to cancel the pilgrimage entirely or to severely limit the number of pilgrims instead.
The Hajj is due to take place in the second week of of Dhu al-Hijja which falls this year from July 29 to August 4.
The Saudi government enforced measures to control coronavirus after the first case was confirmed on March 2, including restrictions on travel and a two-month nationwide curfew. But since the Kingdom began to ease the lockdown in late May, the number of daily cases and deaths have increased.
Latest figures show that Saudi Arabia’s confirmed cases from coronavirus stand at 116,021, including 857 deaths and 80,019 recoveries.
Meanwhile, Malaysia has said will not allow its citizens to make the Hajj pilgrimage this year due to concerns over the coronavirus.
Malaysia decided to bar citizens from making the trip this year due to the risks of contracting COVID-19 and the lack of a vaccine to treat it, said Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri.
“I hope the pilgrims continue to be patient and accept the decision,” Zulkifli told a news conference.
In a separate statement, the Tabung Haji board – which manages savings plans for prospective pilgrims – said the decision would affect approximately 31,600 people selected to make the trip this year.
Last week, Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation – announced it would not be sending its citizens for the pilgrimage this year.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world go to Makkah and Medina for the week-long ritual which is also a significant source of income for Saudi Arabia.