With well over 100, 000 cases of Covid-19 infections, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is considering limiting pilgrims to the annual haj pilgrimage to curb the widespread of the virus. This is will prove to be a tough undertaking since more than 2.5 million pilgrims visit holy sites of Mecca and Medina annually. Saudi officials have urged pilgrims to withhold their plans for Haj and Umrah until further notice. Authorities are debating on enforcing strict regulations while allowing around 20% of the pilgrims of the country’s expected annual quota of pilgrims.
On Monday (June 09), the Saudi Ministry of Health stated 3, 288 new cases bringing the total up to 108, 571 cases across the nation and 783 have succumbed to the virus. In response to the current spike of infections, international flights have been restricted and reinstated a curfew in Jeddah, where most pilgrims are expected to arrive. Certain restrictions were expected to be eased off previously, however, the continued spike of cases urged officials to forego the plan.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia earlier announce their three-phase plan of easing off restrictions that started last May 28. The first phase involved economic and commercial activities to resume in retail and wholesale shops with social distancing and safety protocols still being adhered to. Curfews are still in place even with the second phase. All religious gatherings resumed at this stage except in Mecca. Suspension of work will also be lifted as long as they follow strict precautionary guidelines. The last phase is expected to commence on June 21 in which the kingdom’s normalcy before the pandemic broke out will return.
The debate to ease restrictions early is a critical decision for any country. Since the pandemic, huge economic loses have been recorded and Saudi stock market for one is taking a significant drop by as much as 7% or around $33 billion. And with the possible cancellation of Haj and Umrah, which generate around $12 billion a year, officials are cautiously deciding on the fate of the kingdom.