Saudi Arabia said on Monday it will bar arrivals from abroad to attend the hajj this year due to the coronavirus, allowing only a limited number of Saudi citizens and residents to make the pilgrimage with social distancing measures enforced.
According to the ministry that oversees pilgrimages said in a statement, the decision was 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 move marks the first time in the modern era that Muslims from across the globe haven’t been allowed to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
The number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia has exceeded 160,000, with 1,307 deaths, following a rise in new infections over the past two weeks.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims typically visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long hajj. Official data show Saudi Arabia earns around $12bn a year from the hajj and the lesser, year-round pilgrimage known as Umrah.
The kingdom halted international passenger flights in March and asked Muslims in March to put hajj plans on hold until further notice. International arrivals for umrah pilgrimages have also been suspended until further notice.
Earlier this month, Malaysia and Indonesia both barred their citizens from travelling to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage, citing fears of the coronavirus.
Crowded conditions are a known risk of COVID-19 spread, as is international travel to and from areas where community spread is occurring. Several countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, are still experiencing high and steady levels of virus activity.