Saudi Arabia says it will allow only about 1,000 pilgrims residing in the kingdom to perform the Hajj this year, one day after it announced the annual pilgrimage would be scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world flock annually to the cities of Mecca and Medina for the week-long ritual scheduled to begin in late July 2020. This year, no overseas visitors would be allowed except those foreigners who have been staying within the Saudi-Arabia.
Saudi Arabia announced on Monday it would hold a “very limited” Hajj this year, as the country is still battling with the coronavirus pandemic.
In a virtual news conference on Tuesday, Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten said the government is still in the process of reviewing the number of overall pilgrims allowed, saying they could be “around 1,000, maybe less, maybe a little more”.
“The number won’t be in tens or hundreds of thousands” this year, he added.
Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said the pilgrims would be tested for coronavirus before arriving in the holy city of Mecca and will be required to quarantine at home after the ritual.
He said no one over the age of 65 or with chronic illnesses would be allowed to perform the Hajj.
Since late February, the kingdom has suspended the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca due to the outbreak.
The kingdom has one of the highest rates of coronavirus infections in the Middle East, with more than 161,000 total confirmed cases and 1,307 deaths.
What has the reaction been across the world?
The response has been a mix of disappointment, relief and acceptance.
“My hopes of going to (the holy Saudi city of Mecca) were so high,” Kamariah Yahya, 68, from Indonesia, told AFP news agency.
“I’ve been preparing for years. But what can I do? This is Allah’s will – it’s destiny.”
Shahadat Hossain Taslim, head of a group representing Bangladeshi Hajj travel agencies, said “many people will be shattered” by the decision, but it was for the best.
India and Pakistan have announced their decision to refund the full amount of money paid by the Hajj applicants while Indonesia said that it will give the option for the pilgrims either to receive the money or keep it with the government with a priority to perform next year’s Hajj.
Pilgrims from these countries constitute nearly one-third of the total foreign pilgrims, with their numbers crossed 620,000 last year. According to the figures of the Saudi General Authority for Statistics, a total of 2,489,406 pilgrims performed Hajj in 2019, of which 1,855,027 came from abroad and 634,379 were from within the Kingdom. The foreign pilgrims also included more than 171,000 pilgrims who came from Indonesia, Pakistan, Tunisia, Malaysia and Bangladesh via the Makkah Route Initiative.