Saudi Arabia is considering barring overseas pilgrims from the hajj for the second year running as COVID-19 cases rise globally. Saudi Arabia is also worried about the emergence of new variants, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
However, there has been no final decision on whether Saudi Arabia will be barring overseas pilgrims for hajj or not, said officials.
Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. Such a move would restrict the pilgrimage to Makkah to Saudi nationals and residents of the kingdom. Those who vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 at least months prior will be able to do hajj.
Before the pandemic, 2.5 million pilgrims used to visit Makkah and Madina for the week-long hajj, and the lesser, year-round umrah pilgrimage. Altogether both the events earned the kingdom about $12 billion a year, according to official data.
The kingdom was hoping to raise the number of umrah and hajj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020. It aimed to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030. It aims to earn 50 billion riyals ($13.32 billion) of revenues from the haj alone by 2030.
Two sources familiar with the matter said authorities have suspended earlier plans to host pilgrims from overseas. They will only allow domestic pilgrims who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 at least six months before the pilgrimage.
Restrictions will be applied on the age of participants as well, one of the sources said.
A second source said the plans were initially to allow some numbers of vaccinated pilgrims from abroad. But confusion over types of vaccines, their efficacy and the emergence of new variants has pushed officials to reconsider.
The government media office did not respond to a request for comment.
COVID-19 & Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites. It barred foreigners from the hajj 2020 due to the pandemic for the first time in the kingdom’s modern history. It allowed it only to a limited number of Saudi citizens and residents.
COVID-19 infections are still rising in 35 countries globally. There have been at least 153,508,000 reported infections and 3,351,000 reported deaths caused by the new coronavirus so far.
India leads the world in the daily average number of new deaths reported. It accounts for one in every four deaths reported worldwide each day.
Crowds of millions of pilgrims from around the world could be a hotbed for virus transmission. In the past, some worshippers have returned to their countries with respiratory and other diseases.
In February, the government suspended entry to the kingdom from 20 countries. It excepted diplomats, Saudi citizens, medical practitioners, and their families, to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
The ban includes people arriving from the UAE, Germany, the US, Britain, South Africa, France, Egypt, Lebanon, India, and Pakistan.
What do you think of this story? Let us know in the comments section below.