Saudi Arabia has confirmed that no foreign pilgrims will be allowed to perform the Hajj this year.
In a press conference yesterday Minister of Health, Dr Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, and Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Dr Muhammad Saleh Benten, said no more than 10,000 domestic pilgrims would be allowed to perform the Hajj under “strict health measures and protocols” to prevent coronavirus from spreading.
“We have worked with the Ministry of Health to develop preventative and precautionary measures and protocols that are needed to ensure a safe Hajj season,” Benten said.
He added that the following protocols must be adhered to:
- No more than 10,000 people will be allowed to perform the Hajj pilgrimage.
- All pilgrims will be tested before they reach the Holy Sites.
- Only those under the age of 65 will be allowed to perform Hajj this year.
- All pilgrims will be asked to self-quarantine after they complete the Hajj rituals.
- All workers and volunteers will be tested before the Hajj pilgrimage begins.
- The health status of all pilgrims will be monitored daily.
- A hospital has been prepared for any emergency that occurs during the pilgrimage.
- Social distancing measures will be enforced.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah cited the lack of an available vaccine and the risks of crowded gatherings as the main reasons behind the decision.
“This decision is taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols to protect human beings from the risks associated with this pandemic and in accordance with the teachings of Islam in preserving the lives of human beings,” the Ministry said.
Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body endorsed the government’s decision and thanked King Salman, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and the Saudi government for their “great efforts to serve the two Holy Mosques and Muslims.”
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Cairo also backed the move, calling it a wise decision that is compatible with the Shariah. Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayyeb said that the decision takes into account the continuity of the Hajj pilgrimage while reflecting the concern for the safety of the pilgrims of God’s Sacred House.
In the UK, Yasmin Qureshi MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hajj & Umrah, said she supported the decision and urged pilgrims who have already booked to get refunds or their bookings delayed until next year.
“During these unprecedented times, public health has to be put first. Owing to the Coronavirus pandemic, every country in the world has had to tackle the spread of the virus including the UK,” she said.
“A global event like Hajj attracts millions of people from around the world, and to maintain social distancing measures and a safe and comfortable environment for the Hajj rites to be completed would’ve been a public health challenge and near impossible…
“It is important that those who had booked to undertake Hajj are either refunded or have an option to take their bookings forward for Hajj next year, and that they are given the guarantees by their respective tour operators. Pilgrims should check that they have a valid ATOL certificate which affords them the financial protection.”
Rashid Mogradia CEO of CBHUK, from rhe Council of British Hajjis, added: “Naturally Muslims outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be disappointed at not being able to undertake the Journey of Hajj, which they would have spent years saving for and for many it would have been their first time visiting the holy city of Makkah.
“As countries around the world battle to control the spread of the Coronavirus, there was always going to be a challenge to hosting Hajj which attracts around 2.5 million people each year from over 140 countries, in a safe environment whilst at the same time complying with public health requirements and social distancing measures in order to reduce the spread of the virus in a crowded place…
“The challenge now is to work with Hajj tour operators and ensure that those who had booked to go Hajj this year, and find that their Hajj package is now cancelled, that they get a timely refund or a rebooking for next Hajj and that their rights are protected under Package Travel Regulations. In the meantime, we strongly urge pilgrims to check that they have a valid ATOL certificate issued for their booking. Further guidance can be found on our website www.cbhuk.org “.
The decision to limit the Hajj comes as Saudi Arabia struggles to contain a spike in COVID-19 infections, which have now risen to some 161,000 cases and more than 1,300 deaths.
It will also represent a major loss of revenue for the Kingdom, which is already reeling from the twin shocks of the virus-induced slowdown and a plunge in oil prices.
The Umrah pilgrimage was already suspended in March. Together, Hajj and Umrah add $12 billion to the Saudi economy every year, according to government figures.
Major Muslim countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia have already banned their pilgrims from attending this year’s Hajj.