Malaysia will not allow its citizens to make the Hajj pilgrimage this year due to concerns over the coronavirus.
Every year, Malaysia sends tens of thousands of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, home of Islam’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, for the annual event.
Malaysia decided to bar citizens from making the trip this year due to the risks of contracting COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and the lack of a vaccine to treat it, said Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, following in the steps of neighbouring Indonesia, which is also a Muslim-majority nation.
“I hope the pilgrims continue to be patient and accept the decision,” Zulkifli told a news conference broadcast on national television.
Saudi Arabia has suspended the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages until further notice in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Malaysian pilgrims can wait up to 20 years to make the trip due to a quota system negotiated with Saudi Arabia.
In a separate statement, the Tabung Haji board – which manages savings plans for prospective pilgrims – said the decision would affect approximately 31,600 people selected to make the trip this year.
Malaysia has reported 8,369 coronavirus cases so far, with 118 fatalities.
Last week, Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation – announced it would not be sending its citizens for the pilgrimage this year.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world go to Mecca and Medina for the week-long ritual scheduled to begin in late July this year.
The pilgrimage is also a significant source of income for Saudi Arabia.