Saudi may limit hajj pilgrims amid coronavirus fears


The authorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has considered drastically limiting the numbers of pilgrims at the annual hajj pilgrimage to prevent a further outbreak of coronavirus after cases in the country reached 100,000.

Not less than 2.5 million pilgrims visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long hajj every year to perform a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

Official data show hajj and the lesser, year-round umrah pilgrimage earn the kingdom about $12 billion a year.

Saudi Arabia had asked Muslims in March to put hajj plans on hold and suspended umrah until further notice.

However, two sources familiar with the matter said, “The kingdom’s authorities are now considering allowing only symbolic numbers this year, with restrictions including a ban on older pilgrims and additional health checks.”

The authorities feel it may be possible to allow up to 20% of each country’s quota of pilgrims, if strict procedures are enforced.

Nevertheless, some Saudi officials are still pushing for a cancellation of the hajj which is expected to start in late July.

Limiting or cancelling hajj will further pressure government finances hit by the plunge in oil prices and the pandemic. Analysts predict a severe economic contraction this year.

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