The kingdom has already lifted a nationwide curfew and restrictions on businesses from Sunday morning after three months of lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Restrictions remain, however, for religious pilgrimages, international travel and social gatherings of more than 50 people.“The case of hajj has been carefully studied and various scenarios are being considered. A formal decision will be taken within a week,” the Saudi official told media.
The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam. Healthy Muslims are expected to make the journey at least once during their lifetime if they can afford to do so.
The hajj and the year-round umrah pilgrimage are a critical source of foreign currency for Saudi Arabia. The country’s revenue from the pilgrimage is estimated at $12 billion annually, according to Reuters.
Saudi authorities are also considering cutting the number of pilgrims allowed to participate this year. This may involve a cap at 20% of standard numbers. They may also limit the 2020 hajj to exclude the elderly, as well as institute safety measures such as health screenings.
If the cancellation takes place, it would be for the first time since the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
Many countries have announced canceling their participation in this year’s hajj season, including Indonesia, which alone sends approximately 220,000 people yearly.The list of countries that already withdrew their participation also includes Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, and Brunei.
The kingdom has recorded 154,223 cases of COVID-19 and a total of 1,230 deaths till Saturday, the highest in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long haj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. Saudi Arabia asked Muslims in March to put hajj plans on hold and suspended the umrah pilgrimage until further notice.