For the first time since it was founded in 1932, Saudi Arabia is contemplating the cancellation of the most important annual Muslim ritual – Hajj pilgrimage – this year after the number of coronavirus cases has exceeded 100,000.
“The case has been carefully studied and various scenarios are being considered. A formal decision will be taken within a week,” a senior official in the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah told the British newspaper Financial Times.
The pilgrimage, which is scheduled for late July this year, is one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, with more than two million pilgrims visiting the Kingdom to perform Islamic rituals.
Due the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the Saudi government has faced growing pressure to take action. Officials are considering allowing a small number of people to perform the rituals or to cancel the pilgrimage altogether. “All options are on the table but the priority is for the health and safety of pilgrims,” the official said.
The kingdom has so far reported a total of 116,021 Covid-19 cases and 857 deaths.
On Friday, the kingdom re-imposed a curfew in Jeddah, where Hajj flights land, after a spike of infections in the city.
A decision to cancel or even scale down the Hajj would be a blow to Saudi Arabia, given Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to boost its capacity for religious tourism to generate $13.32 billion of revenues by 2030.