Indonesia cancels haj pilgrimage over coronavirus

This article is more than 12 months old

JAKARTA : Indonesia is pulling out of the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca over coronavirus fears, the Religious Affairs Ministry said yesterday, removing the largest contingent of worshippers.

More than 220,000 people from the world's biggest Muslim-majority country were set to take part in this year's haj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.

The global pandemic has plunged the ritual into doubt, but Riyadh has yet to announce a final decision on whether it will go ahead with the end-of-July celebration.

Yesterday, Indonesia said it was pulling out of the pilgrimage, which last year drew about 2.5 million Muslims to Saudi Arabia from across the globe.

"This was a very bitter and difficult decision," Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi said. "But we have a responsibility to protect our pilgrims and haj workers."

Last month, Indonesia pressed Riyadh to announce its decision and President Joko Widodo later held a telephone call with Saudi Arabia's King Salman on the matter, Mr Razi said.

Jakarta had considered allowing half the usual number of pilgrims to travel in order to limit the risk, but instead opted to keep them all at home, he added.

Indonesia's decision was a disappointment for some who have been on a pilgrimage waiting list for years.

"I knew this was a possibility, but now that it's official I can't help but be heartbroken - I've been waiting for years," 37-year-old civil servant Ria Taurisnawati told AFP as she sobbed.

Indonesia reported 609 new cases yesterday, taking its total of coronavirus infections to 27,549. There were 22 more deaths, bringing the total to 1,663.

Malaysia reported 20 new coronavirus cases with no deaths, bringing the cumulative total to 7,877 cases and 115 fatalities.

Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said a new cluster detected at a Cheras flat could be due to visits before and during Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Thailand confirmed one new coronavirus case and one death yesterday, a Health Ministry spokesman said.

This brought the total number of cases to 3,083, of which 58 were fatalities. - AFP, REUTERS, THE STAR