Saudi security officers are seen standing in front of the Kaaba, as Muslims pray during the Laylat al-Qadr, following the outbreak of COVID-19, during Ramadan, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on May 19 – Photo: Reuters
Dhaka: Saudi Arabia is considering cancelling the annual hajj pilgrimage this year due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to reports.
The hajj, which involves travelling to the holy city of Mecca, is a mandatory ritual for all observant Muslims who can afford the trip and physically complete the journey to the Arabian Peninsula.
One of the largest religious gatherings in the world, the hajj draws about 2 million people to Saudi Arabia each year.
However, following the postponement of other major events like the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Saudi officials have faced pressure to cancel this year’s hajj to help contain the spread of COVID-19, reports said.
Officials are considering different scenarios and a “decision will be made within one week,” a senior official from the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah ministry said.
This year’s hajj is supposed to take place from July 29 to August 4, but Saudi Arabia has yet to lift the international travel ban implemented on May 20. Other countries have already declined to send pilgrims this year.
The kingdom experienced a spike in coronavirus cases and deaths after loosening lockdown measures, reports claimed.
Saudi Arabia has reported more than 119,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 893 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
A cancellation of the hajj could put further economic pressure on a country still reeling from the drop in oil demand brought upon by the pandemic. Those making the pilgrimage were expected to generate USD 12 billion for the kingdom.