RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s ministry of Hajj announced on Monday that only a limited number of people, irrespective of nationality, who currently reside in the Kingdom would be allowed to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage this year.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims visit the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Madinah for the week-long Hajj each year. In March, Saudi Arabia asked Muslims to put Hajj plans on hold and suspended Umrah until further notice.
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia lifted a three-month long curfew introduced in March to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, including 24-hour curfews in most towns and cities, with most people only allowed out for essential shopping or urgent medical reasons.
Saudi Arabia has so far reported more than 157,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,267 deaths.
“As COVID-19 cases continue to grow globally while the risks of coronavirus spread in crowded spaces and to countries still exist, Hajj 1441H is decided to take place this year with a limited number of pilgrims from all nationalities residing in Saudi Arabia only, who are willing to perform Hajj,” the state-run SPA news agency said in a statement, quoting the ministry of Hajj.
“This decision is taken to ensure Hajj is safely performed while committing to all preventive measures to protect Muslims and adhere strictly to the teachings of Islam in preserving our health and safety.”
In 2019, around 19 million pilgrims attended Umrah while Hajj drew 2.6 million. An economic reform plan by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to increase Umrah and Hajj capacity to 30 million pilgrims annually and generate 50 billion riyals ($13.32 billion) of revenues by 2030.
The SPA statement said Saudi Arabia was honored to serve millions of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims annually and said the decision to allow a limited Hajj this year “is in consideration of its constant care of maintaining the safety of pilgrims on its land until departing back to their home countries. We ask Allah the Almighty to protect all countries from this pandemic and keep all humans protected and safe."