Saudi Arabian authorities Monday said only residents of the country will be permitted to undertake the annual Hajj pilgrimage next month.
The country said the measure was necessary to combat the spread of coronavirus, which has already infected over nine million and killed over 405, 000 people worldwide.
“It has been decided that Hajj for this year (1441 H/ 2020 AD) will be held whereby a very limited number of pilgrims from various nationalities who already reside in Saudi Arabia would be able to perform it,” Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said in a statement.
“This decision is taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols to protect human beings from the risks associated with this pandemic and in accordance with the teachings of Islam in preserving the lives of human beings.”
A few countries had earlier announced their withdrawal from the pilgrimage this year.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, withdrew from the pilgrimage this month after pressing Riyadh for clarity, with a minister calling it a “very bitter and difficult decision”.
Malaysia, Senegal and Singapore followed suit with similar announcements.
Many other countries with Muslim populations — from Egypt and Morocco to Turkey, Lebanon and Bulgaria — have said they are still awaiting Riyadh’s decision.
In countries like France, faith leaders have urged Muslims to “postpone” their pilgrimage plans until next year due to the prevailing risks.
The hajj, a must for able-bodied Muslims who can afford it at least once in their lifetime, represents a major potential source of contagion as it packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites.