On June 24, 2020, an Arab News report from Riyadh said:

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to greatly limit the number of Hajj pilgrims this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kingdom said just 1,000 people, who are already living in Saudi Arabia, would be able to perform the pilgrimage.

Last year almost 2.5 million worshippers from around the world took part.

“As some countries start to reopen their societies and economies, the question about how to hold gatherings of large numbers of people safely have become increasingly important,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanum, said. “This is especially true of one of the world’s largest mass gatherings, the annual Hajj pilgrimage.”

Adhanum said the decision comes on the basis of risk assessment and an analysis of the various scenarios, in accordance with the organization’s guidelines to protect the safety of pilgrims and reduce the risk of infection.

Speaking n Geneva during the daily coronavirus press conference, he said the organization supported Saudi Arabia’s decision, adding that all that all countries must make difficult decisions to put public health at the forefront.

“We understand that it was not an easy decision to make and we also understand it is a major disappointment for many Muslims who are looking forward to making their pilgrimage this year,” he said. “This is another example of the hard choices that all countries must make to put health first.”

An Al Jazeera report (Saudi Arabia to hold ‘very limited’ Hajj due to coronavirus) said on June 23, 2020:

Saudi Arabia has announced it will hold a “very limited” Hajj this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with people already living in the kingdom allowed to take part in the pilgrimage that begins in late July.

“It was decided to hold the pilgrimage this year with very limited numbers … with different nationalities in the kingdom,” the official Saudi Press Agency said on Monday, citing the Hajj ministry.

The decision comes in light of the increase in COVID-19 cases around the world, the lack of a vaccine and difficulty maintaining a safe physical distance among large numbers of pilgrims coming from overseas, the statement said.

The report said:

A watered-down Hajj would represent a major loss of revenue for the kingdom, which is already reeling from the twin shocks of the virus-induced slowdown and a plunge in oil prices.

It could also trigger renewed scrutiny of the Saudi custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites – the kingdom’s most powerful source of political legitimacy.

A series of deadly disasters over the years, including a 2015 stampede that killed up to 2,300 worshippers, has prompted criticism of the kingdom’s management of the Hajj.

It said:

A full-scale Hajj was unlikely after authorities advised Muslims in late March to defer preparations due to the fast-spreading disease.

Earlier this month, Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, emerged as one of the first countries to withdraw from the pilgrimage after pressing Riyadh for clarity, with a minister calling it a “very bitter and difficult decision.”

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.

Another Al Jazeera report (Hajj 2020: What you need to know about this year’s pilgrimage) said on June 23, 2020:

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.

Saudi Arabia announced on Monday it would hold a “very limited” Hajj this year, as the country is still battling with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Saudi Ministry of Hajj said the decision to curtail the pilgrimage was aimed at preserving global public health because of the risks associated with large gatherings.

This year’s event is expected to start on July 28.

The report said:

This year, the kingdom’s Hajj ministry said the ritual would be open only to individuals of various nationalities residing in Saudi Arabia.

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.

This is the first time in Saudi Arabia’s nearly 90-year history that foreign visitors have been barred from performing Hajj.

The Hajj has been cancelled because of war and past epidemics throughout history, but not since the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

Reaction

The response to the Saudi decision has been a mix of disappointment, relief and acceptance.

Before the Saudi announcement, Indonesia, Malaysia, Senegal and Singapore had already barred their citizens from performing Hajj this year because of coronavirus concerns.

“My hopes of going to (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 is 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.

“Unlike other countries, the majority of Bangladeshi pilgrims are elderly people, and they are vulnerable to COVID-19,” he said.

Pakistan, which usually sends nearly 180,000 pilgrims, said its diplomats in Saudi Arabia would represent the country during the pilgrimage this year.

In neighboring India, the minister for minority affairs said more than 200,000 people had applied to go on Hajj in 2020, and that they would receive a full refund of any money deposited for the pilgrimage.

Mohamad Azmi Abdul Hamid, from the charity Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organizations, said Muslim nations should have been allowed to take a “collective decision,” rather then it being left to Riyadh.


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