23 Jun 2020

Saudi Arabia bars international Hajj pilgrims due to coronavirus

11:07 am on 23 June 2020

Saudi Arabia will bar arrivals from abroad from attending the hajj this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

 In this file photo taken on April 24, 2020, sanitation workers disinfect the area around the Kaaba in Mecca's Grand Mosque, on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, amid unprecedented bans on family gatherings and mass prayers due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Sanitation workers clean the area around the Kaaba in Mecca's Grand Mosque, in April 2020, amid bans on family gatherings and mass prayers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: AFP

Only a limited number of Saudi citizens and residents will be allowed to make the pilgrimage, with social distancing measures enforced.

The announcement means this will be the first year in modern times that Muslims from around the world have not been allowed to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims aim to perform at least once in a lifetime.

"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.

The number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia has exceeded 160,000, with 1307 deaths, following a rise in new infections over the past two weeks.

Some 2.5 million pilgrims typically visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long hajj, which this year takes place from the end of July.

Official data show Saudi Arabia earns around $US12 billion a year from the hajj and the lesser, year-round pilgrimage known as umrah.

The kingdom halted international passenger flights in March and asked Muslims in March to put hajj plans on hold until further notice. International arrivals for umrah pilgrimages have also been suspended 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 coronavirus.

- Reuters