Saudi Arabia announced that this year’s hajj will be “very limited” and will not feature international pilgrims because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was decided to hold the pilgrimage this year with very limited numbers … with different nationalities in the kingdom,” Saudi Arabia announced on Monday, citing the hajj ministry. Prior to Monday’s decision, there were questions as to if the hajj would be canceled altogether.
Officials said the limited gathering is the only way in which Saudi Arabia could ensure a safe plan for social distancing during the event.
More than 2 million people typically attend the pilgrimage, which is one of the most holy events in Islam. Making the journey to Mecca at least once, if one is healthy and can afford it, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which are mandates that practicing Muslims must adhere to as part of the religion.
In February, Saudi Arabia made a historic decision to suspend pilgrims from Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina. At the time of the suspension, Saudi Arabia had not yet reported a confirmed case of COVID-19 but since then has seen one of the highest infection rates in the Middle East, with more than 161,000 confirmed cases and at least 1,300 deaths, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.