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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia: cases cross 100,000, Hajj threatened

As coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia cross 100,000, authorities in the Kingdom are scrambling to contain the pandemic. Jeddah and Riyadh will see a reimposition of lockdowns and a recurrence of stringent measures to control the contagion. These developments have thrown the Hajj into further limbo and it remains to be seen what becomes of Islam's fifth pillar this year.

The number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia surpassed 100,000 on Sunday, the health ministry said, amid a new surge in infections just weeks ahead of the start of the Hajj. The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage, incumbent upon every Muslim who has the means to undertake it, that usually sees record numbers of people gathered at Islam’s holiest sites. This is a development which threatens the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia this year for millions of Muslims across the world.

The total number of infections rose to 101,914 — the highest in the Gulf — while the death toll climbed to 712, the ministry added.

The kingdom has seen infections spike as it eases stringent lockdown measures, with the number of daily cases exceeding 3,000 for the second day in a row on Sunday.

Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia: Kingdom scrambles to restore order 

On Friday, the kingdom announced a renewed lockdown in the city of Jeddah, gateway to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, to counter the jump in cases.

The measures include a curfew running from 3 pm to 6 am, a suspension of prayers in mosques and a stay-at-home order for public and private sector workers in the Red Sea city whose airport serves pilgrims.

Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia: Riyadh set to undergo tightened measures

After an easing of precautions in the kingdom in late May, the ministry said that strict measures could also soon return to Riyadh, which was “witnessing a continuous increase during the last days” of critical cases of the pandemic.

Read more: Is Saudi Arabia going to suspend Hajj due to COVID-19?

The kingdom has said it will continue to suspend the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading in Islam’s holiest cities.

Easing of restrictions in Mosques across Saudi Arabia

Earlier, Muslims around the world breathed a sigh of relief as Saudi Arabia opened mosques within its borders, including the Masjid-e-Nabavi, one of Islam’s two holiest sites in Medina. Mask-clad worshippers flocked to Saudi mosques that reopened nationwide, except in the holy city of Mecca, more than two months after congregational prayers were halted under a coronavirus-triggered lockdown.

They had been instructed to bring their own prayer mats and to perform the cleansing ritual, or ablution, at home, instead of in mosque grounds.

Read more: Saudi Arabia reopens mosques including Masjid-e-Nabavi

“Worshippers rushed to the home of God to perform their obligatory duty (prayers) after the reopening of mosques,” the ministry of Islamic affairs said on Twitter.

After Saudi Arabia reopened mosques, the ministry posted photos showing mosques and many worshippers wearing face masks and keeping standard minimum distance in between fellow worshippers.

“My feelings are indescribable. We are so happy. Thank God we are back in (His) house,” Abdulrahman, 45, told AFP at Al-Rajhi mosque.

“All the precautionary measures have been put in place here.”

But some took to social media to complain that worshippers in other mosques were not strictly complying with the rules.

“I prayed, praise be to God, in the neighbourhood mosque… and it was a beautiful feeling,” said one Twitter user.

The spike in cases has also endangered this recent relaxation, and it is feared that Saudi authorities may once again lock down mosques in a bid to control the virus which is now running rampant across the land.

Hajj in danger because of Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s hajj, scheduled for the end of July, but have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in the hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.

Saudi authorities have presented their recommendations regarding Hajj to King Salman. The recommendation regarding conducting this year’s pilgrimage on a limited scale is under consideration, he said. Saudi authorities are considering allowing 20 percent Pakistani pilgrims to perform the pilgrimage, the minister said. However, a final decision in this regard is expected next week, he added.

Read More: Will Saudi Arabia allow women to perform Hajj without male guardian?

On March 4, Saudi authorities canceled the umrah, a voluntary meritorious pilgrimage, for its citizens. Foreign citizens were already barred from traveling to the kingdom for the umrah.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk