With Hajj a Month Away, Saudi Arabia Makes Safety Its Highest Priority
On days like this every year, Saudi Arabia welcomes the first cohort of pilgrims. In light of the coronavirus pandemic that the world is currently facing, some countries have asked their citizens to think twice about performing Hajj.
Just like the rest of the world, Islamic countries have dealt with COVID-19 with utmost caution. This disease has changed the features of major plans for many countries around the world, including plans to perform Hajj in light of warnings issued by international health organizations. Saudi Arabia took very strict precautions to protect pilgrims to holy sites, by banning Umrah since March 4 and banning prayers in mosques, including the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah. Saudi Arabia also banned permits to perform Umrah.
In light of advice published by international health organizations to minimize crowds and implement precautions to contain the pandemic and despite Saudi Arabia successfully and safely managing crowds during previous Hajj seasons, some international experts have wondered how Hajj could be conducted this year in the current circumstances where it is difficult to control small crowds of people, let alone large crowds in a small geographic area such as the holy area.
Dr. Nazir Bahibri, an infectious diseases consultant, says that if Hajj is performed this year it will be difficult to control the spread of coronavirus. Even during normal circumstances, relevant bodies make massive efforts to help pilgrims safely perform Hajj.
Bahibri told Asharq Al-Awsat, “The nature of Hajj, an activity that involves a large number of people in a small and limited geographic area, makes mixing a large possibility and makes social distancing between pilgrims difficult while performing rituals. Consequently, the spread of certain viruses is normal during Hajj”, adding, “let alone during the current pandemic?”
He continued: “I imagine it will be difficult to control the virus in such circumstances”.
Bahibri discussed the diseases that normally spread during Hajj. “In general, while performing the rituals of Hajj, some pilgrims catch certain diseases that are common during Hajj and Umrah seasons, including respiratory infections. Respiratory infections are considered the most common diseases during Hajj and they are a result of bacteria or viruses and are spread through aerosols emitted by coughing and sneezing. Also, pilgrims are usually very close to each other and often meet in groups”.
Dr. Bahibri continued, “In case the situation improved and Hajj was performed this year, then Islamic Sharia emphasizes that Hajj is for those who are capable of performing it. In other words, if a person is not physically fit to perform it then it is not a duty; Hajj is only a duty for those who are physically and mentally fit to fully perform it”.