A senior official in Saudi Arabia has urged more than 1 million Muslims who intend to perform the hajj pilgrimage this summer to delay making plans this year.
The statement by Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Muhammad Saleh Benten late on March 31 is the latest sign suggesting Saudi Arabia could cancel the annual Islamic pilgrimage to prevent the spread of coronavirus to Muslim worshippers from around the world.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is prepared to secure the safety of all Muslims and nationals,” Benten told state television. “That's why we have requested from all Muslims around the world to hold onto signing any agreements [with tour operators] until we have a clear vision.”
The hajj pilgrimage of 2020 is scheduled to begin on July 28 and last through the evening of August 2.
In February, Saudi Arabia decided to close off the cities of Mecca and Medina to foreigners in response to the pandemic.
Restrictions have been tightened further since then as Saudi Arabia tries to deal with more than 1,500 confirmed cases of the virus. Saudi officials have reported 10 deaths so far.
There have been more than 75,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the Middle East including more than 3,400 deaths. Most of those cases and deaths have been in neighboring Iran.
Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP