Saudi Arabia is considering canceling the annual hajj pilgrimage this year because the coronavirus pandemic, the Financial Times reported.
The hajj, which involves traveling to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, is a mandatory ritual for all observant Muslims who can afford the trip and physically complete the journey at least once in their lifetime. One of the largest religious gatherings in the world, hajj draws about 2 million people to Saudi Arabia each year.
However, following the postponement of other major events like the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Saudi officials have faced pressure to cancel this year’s hajj to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, the report said.
Officials are considering different scenarios and a “decision will be made within one week,” a senior official from the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah ministry told the newspaper.
This year’s hajj is supposed to take place from July 29 to Aug. 4, but Saudi Arabia has yet to lift an international travel ban implemented on May 20. Other countries have already declined to send pilgrims this year.
The kingdom experienced a spike in coronavirus cases and deaths after loosening lockdown measures, the report said. Saudi Arabia has reported more than 119,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 893 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
A cancellation of the hajj could put further economic pressure on a country still reeling from the drop in oil demandbrought upon by the pandemic. Those making the pilgrimage were expected to generate $12 billion for the kingdom.
The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah did not immediately reply to a request for comment.