Saudi Arabia on Tuesday urged Muslims to wait before making plans to attend the annual hajj pilgrimage until there was more clarity over the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve asked the world not to rush with regards to Hajj groups until the path of the epidemic becomes clear, keeping in mind the safety of pilgrims and public health as a priority,” Dr Muhammad Salih bin Taher Banten, the Kingdom’s minister for Haj and Umrah said, reported Arab News.
“We have coordinated with the Ministry of Health an inspection tour of hotels that were used for health isolation to ensure that all services and care are provided to pilgrims,” he added.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims usually flock to the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Medina each year for the week-long ritual, which is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim and a major source of income for the kingdom.
However, this year’s annual pilgrimage has been put in doubt as the novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc around the globe.
More than 799,800 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 38,854 have died, according to a Reuters tally, while infections have been reported in more than 200 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.
In Saudi Arabia, there have been 10 deaths reported among 1,563 cases of coronavirus.
The kingdom has already suspended Umrah and imposed restrictions to contain the epidemic.
On Thursday, the Saudi government has asked Pakistan to not sign any agreement related to the upcoming Hajj due to uncertain situation amid coronavirus pandemic.
“We are closely monitoring the coronavirus situation and will inform you as soon as it gets better,” Dr Benten has said in a letter to Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Sahibzada Noor-ul-Haq Qadri.
In March, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony had conducted balloting for the government’s Haj scheme under which almost 100,000 pilgrims were picked to would go to Saudi Arabia to perform the annual pilgrimage later this year.
A total of 86,765 intending pilgrims were selected through general balloting out of 149,295 applicants.