Muslim hajj in doubt as coronavirus fears mount

2020-03-12 12:12

The annual hajj (mandatory pilgrimage) for Muslims hangs in the balance as fears about the coronavirus plague the world.

The South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) announced on its official social media accounts that the administration of the pilgrimage would be put on hold.

LIVE | Four new cases of coronavirus confirmed in SA, bringing total to 17

"Following communiqué received from the Ministry of Hajj where they indicate that it is too early to determine if Hajj 1441H will continue or not. (sic)

"Ministry of Hajj has requested we place a hold on all Hajj administration until further notice (sic)," the organisation posted on social media.

READ | Saudi Arabia travel ban: South African Umrah pilgrims in limbo amid coronavirus scare

Sahuc president Shaheen Essop said the letter was simply an instruction to pause the administration of hajj preparations.

"Basically, the Ministry of Hajj said that it is too early to make a decision. It is early days and no decision has been made on hajj. People are concerned at this time," Essop told News24.

South African cases

Many pilgrims have already paid for hajj packages and related fees. But Essop said that there was still enough time to finalise travel plans.

"The first flights are only supposed to go out on 20 June and we are only at the 12th of March. So there's a lot of time."

Sahuc is involved in ongoing discussions with the Saudi Ministry. Essop said the organisation would discuss plans with travel agencies.

"Each company has its own contract and if it gets to that - a force majeure - one needs to look at the fine print. We are engaging with operators," he said.

READ | Saudi bars Gulf citizens from holy cities over coronavirus fears

The developments come after the umrah (non-mandatory pilgrimage) was also suspended due to fears related to the coronavirus outbreak.

The virus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, has infected more than 100 000 people globally and more than 4 000 people have died.

Several countries have quarantined regions and mass gatherings to contain the spread of the virus.

In South Africa, 16 people who returned from international travel tested positive for the virus. One person tested positive after coming into contact with a businessman who travelled to China. No deaths have been reported.

In February, Saudi Arabia banned foreign visits to the Prophet's mosque.

Efforts to disinfect the Grand Mosque in the kingdom are under way.

Essop urged: "The message is that people should not panic and wait for information from the hajj ministry of Saudi Arabia."

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Read more on:    sahuc  |  coronavirus
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