Saudi Arabia’s decision to suspend entry for Umrah pilgrimage amid coronavirus fears has stoked Muslims’ fears that the ban on the ritual will be in place longer than initially thought and may impact the annual Hajj pilgrimage this year, which usually brings about three million people to Makkah. This year the Hajj is expected to take place from July 28 2020 to August 2nd 2020.
In the last week of February, Saudi Arabia halted Umrah trips to the holy cities of Makkah and Madina due to the coronavirus scare. Despite the fact that Kingdom took a series of stringent precautionary measures to keep the COVID-19 at bay, Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 67 new cases of coronavirus taking the total number of infections in the Kingdom up to 238. The viral ailment has claimed hundreds of lives among thousands of infections around the world since December when it broke out in China, where the virus originated.
Though the Kingdom said the Umrah suspension is temporary and “subject to regular review”, Muslims are increasingly apprehensive about the prospect of doing Hajj and fear that the hajj pilgrimage would be impacted. According to reports, some Egyptian lawmakers have called for cancelling this year’s annual Hajj season, citing fears of a pandemic of the coronavirus.
Travel agencies bear the brunt
The Saudi measure has thrown the business of many travel agencies into disarray. All the tourism companies organising the Umrah and Haj trips will suffer heavy losses. Many travel agencies in Muslim countries deal exclusively with pilgrims and are likely to take a major hit. After Saudi Arabia closed off to travel to the holy city for Umrah, many potential travellers are concerned that Hajj could be affected too.
According to Pilgrim sources, Hajj bookings made with tour operators with a non-refundable deposit could see their deposits lost. And the situation does not favour the Hajj-Umrah operators, who face potential bankruptcy. Who will pocket the deposited thousands is not clear though.
Cancellation of journey
Even if the pilgrimage is not cancelled by the Kingdom, the Coronavirus fear could force millions of Muslims around the world to postpone or cancel a journey that many have eagerly awaited for years. The Hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars. Muslims are expected to perform it at least once in their lives if they can afford it and are physically able.
At this time of uncertainly, Pilgrim is dedicated to keeping Pilgrims updated on the latest. We are currently working with UK agencies to bring you the latest information to shed light on the situation. What we do know, is that there is no certainty around the cancellation or continuation of Hajj. Right now, the best action pilgrims can take is to co-operate and communicate with their Hajj tour operators who are best placed to update them on their pilgrimage journey.