Hajj Pilgrimage Restrictions – Not So Good for Saudi Arabia’s Economy
Saudi Arabia, earlier this week, announced to its decision to limit the Hajj pilgrims this year due to the fear of the coronavirus pandemic. The Hajj pilgrimage, which usually sees up to 2.5 million Muslims from across the globe, will welcome just some thousands of pilgrims next month.
In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s Hajj Minister Muhammad Benten said, “The number, God willing, may be in the thousands. We are in the process of reviewing so it could be 1,000 or less, or a little more.”
Benten said only the people from the kingdom will be allowed to visit the Hajj pilgrimage to ensure social distancing and control the crowds amid the global spread of the virus.
The World Health Organisation welcomed the kingdom’s decision, saying that other countries would also need to make such difficult decisions so as to protect the health of the people.
“As some countries start to reopen their societies and economies, the question about how to hold gatherings of large numbers of people safely have become increasingly important. This is especially true of one of the world’s largest mass gatherings, the annual Hajj pilgrimage,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanum said.
“We understand that it was not an easy decision to make and we also understand it is a major disappointment for many Muslims who are looking forward to making their pilgrimage this year. This is another example of the hard choices that all countries must make to put health first,” he further added.
It is for the first time in Saudi Arabia’s nearly 90-year history that the Muslims from over the world have been restricted to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. Saudi government also restricted people over the age of 65 from performing the Hajj and said that those serving the pilgrims this year will be quarantined both before and after the pilgrimage.
Saudi Arabia has one of the highest infection rates in the Middle East, with more than 167,267 people having contracted the disease. On Wednesday, 41 COVID-related deaths were recorded, increasing the total number of deaths due to the virus to 1,387. So far, at least 1,380,031 tests for COVID-19 have been conducted in the kingdom.
While the move to limit the pilgrims is being hailed as a great initiative to curb the spread of the virus, the decision will greatly affect the already dwindling economy of the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is under immense economic pressure due to the pandemic as well as the falling oil prices. The Hajj pilgrimage could have brought a little economic relief.
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