Saudi Arabia closes borders to hajj pilgrimage attendees, allowing only a limited number

Saudi Arabia announced on Monday it will bar arrivals from abroad to attend the hajj this year due to the coronavirus. It will allow only a limited number of Saudi citizens and residents to make the pilgrimage with social distancing measures enforced.

“This decision is 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 ministry that oversees pilgrimages said in a statement.

Every year, some 2.5 million pilgrims visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long hajj. According to official data, Saudi Arabia earns around $12 billion a year from the hajj and the lesser, year-round pilgrimage known as umrah.

Later, Saudi Minister of Health Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said in a joint press conference on Tuesday with Minister of Hajj and Umrah Muhammad Salih that this year’s Hajj will be open to those who are under 65 years of age and do not have chronic diseases.

“A hospital has been set up at every site in anticipation of any emergency… in addition to a health centre at Mount Arafat,” Al-Rabiah said.

Health Minister Salih also affirmed that due to the pandemic, no pilgrims from outside the kingdom will be allowed to attend the Hajj this year, noting that the number of pilgrims will likely not exceed 10,000.

In March, the kingdom halted international passenger flights and asked Muslims to put hajj plans on hold until further notice. It has also suspended international arrivals for umrah pilgrimages 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 pandemic.

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