The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may lose a colossal sum of about $12 Billion in annual return as coronavirus pandemic forced it to prune down the number of Muslims from all over the world from about 2.5 million to a meagre 10,000 , who began the hajj rituals today, July 29.
Analysts said that the greatly reduced number of pilgrims could be a major source of deepening the kingdom’s economic slump.
Saudi Arabia is already facing a sharp downturn in oil prices due to a collapse in global demand, which triggered austerity measures, including the tripling of a value added tax and cuts to civil servants’ allowances.
The reduced number of pilgrims, occasioned by coronavirus, according to experts, will also batter the pilgrimage-reliant businesses that support hundreds of thousands of jobs in Makkah, from travel agents to street barbers and souvenir shops.
They calculated that hajj and the year-round umrah pilgrimages normally rake in some $12 billion a year, which is what the country may also lose this year.
Reports from Makkah, one of the centre points of the rituals said that mask-clad Muslim pilgrims have already moved to Mina, where they are expected to move to Arafat tomorrow to signal the climax of the pilgrimage.
The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.
But this year only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will participate in the ritual, a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world that attended last year. Pilgrims walked into Makkah’s Grand Mosque in batches to begin the ritual with their first “tawaf”, or walk around the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure draped in gold-embroidered cloth towards which Muslims around the world pra.
Pilgrims will be required to wear masks and observe social distancing during a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in the holy city of Makkah and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia. Those who were selected to take part in the hajj were subjected to temperature checks and placed in quarantine as they began trickling into Makkah at the weekend.
State media showed health workers sanitising their luggage, and some pilgrims reported being given electronic wristbands to allow authorities to monitor their whereabouts.
Workers, clutching brooms and disinfectant, were seen cleaning the area around the Kaaba. Using his bare hands, one worker was shown daubing its outer wall with perfume.
Hajj authorities have cordoned off the Kaaba this year, saying that pilgrims will not be allowed to touch it, to limit the chances of infection.
They also reported setting up multiple health facilities, mobile clinics and ambulances to cater for the pilgrims.
“There are no security-related concerns in this pilgrimage, but (downsizing) is to protect pilgrims from the danger of the pandemic,” said Saudi Arabia’s director of public security, Khalid bin Qarar Al-Harbi.
The foreign press are barred from this year’s hajj, usually a huge global media event, as the government tightens access to Mecca.
Saudi authorities initially said that only about 1,000 pilgrims residing in the kingdom would be permitted for the hajj, but local media reports say as many as 10,000 will be allowed to take part. Some 70 percent of the pilgrims are foreigners residing in the kingdom, while the rest are Saudi citizens, authorities said.
All worshippers are required to be tested for coronavirus before arriving in Makkah and will also have to quarantine after the pilgrimage as the number of cases in the kingdom nears 270,000
They were given elaborate amenity kits that include sterilised pebbles for a stoning ritual, disinfectants, masks, a prayer rug and the ihram, a seamless white garment worn by pilgrims, according to a hajj ministry document. “I did not expect, among millions of Muslims, to be blessed with approval,” Emirati pilgrim Abdullah al-Kathiri said in a video released by the Saudi media ministry.