Outbreak of coronavirus
Coronavirus has been a headline for news channels all over the world since the start of 2020. This pandemic laid its roots in Wuhan, China and from there gradually took the whole world in its grip. This disease spreads like a fire in the bush. Till now there is no sufficient information available regarding the causes and cure of coronavirus. It is the leading danger to human society right now and has caused thousands of deaths worldwide in the past 3 or 4 months.
How does the Corona Virus spread?
Coronavirus transfers from one person to another in the form of respiratory particles. This disease has a very quick transmission rate. If one person in an area of society is affected by a coronavirus, you will gradually witness a hundred more cases in that area. This is due to the fact that the respiratory particle in the cough and sputum of infected person quickly transfer to others when the person is in a public place or in direct contact with other individuals.
Maintaining social distancing
Coronavirus is not fully recognized until now. So there isn’t any cure or vaccine available for this disease. The only way to prevent it is by stopping the spread of this pandemic. That is the reason why curfews are being imposed in countries all over the world to prevent gatherings of people and to maintain social distancing. Public places are being shut and people are being ordered to stay inside their premises and not to leave their premises for un-necessary purposes.
Cancellation of public events
In order to maintain social distance and to prevent the widespread of coronavirus many important public events that were scheduled in 2020 have been cancelled or postponed. The most important one was the Tokyo Olympics 2020 which have been cancelled. COVID 19 has caused countless events all around the world to be forced into the digital realm. Even the annual G-20 summit is being organised digitally due to this pandemic. In light of these current alarming situations Hajj, which is considered as the most important Pillars of the Islamic world is also facing dangers of cancellation.
Effect of COVID-19 on Hajj 2020
More than 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world gather annually in the holy city of Mecca to perform Hajj. Most of these people also travel to Medina and stay there for two or more weeks to offer prayers. Hajj, which is considered as one of the largest Muslim gatherings cannot be held digitally like the other events. It is practically impossible to accommodate more than 2 million people on a digital platform.
Hajj is scheduled to be performed in late July and early part of August this year. During this current pandemic situation, it is very far-fetched task to think of how this huge gathering and this enormous holy event can be kept up safely. Mecca and Medina are already under strict curfew imposed by the Government. New coronavirus cases are being reported in the country every single day. Therefore all the mosques, markets, malls and public places are being shut to avoid huge crowds and gatherings. People are also being ordered to stay inside their premises. This current situation ultimately affects the journey of millions of Muslims to their spiritual home in Mecca.
Coronavirus condition in Saudi Arabia
As of 8th April 2020, Saudi Arabia had 2795 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country. These cases also included 21 confirm deaths. The government, however, took quick action against the virus in mid-March and it worked. The Saudi health minister has predicted that the coronavirus patients in Saudi Arabia are expected to rise. They can reach up to 200,000 if proper precautions and steps are not taken. All these stats raise more uncertainty towards the annual hajj.
Cancellation of Umrah and public prayers in Saudi Arabia
In order to maintain social distance, Saudi Arabia has already cancelled Friday (Jumma) prayers and Umrah. The government has ordered to vacate the mosque in Mecca. All the daily and weekly prayers have been suspended both inside and outside the mosques in the cities of Mecca and Medina. Only the staff, officials and cleaners are allowed inside the mosques therefore it can be said that Hajj may also be affected as it is the largest gathering in the country.
Saudi economy and Hajj
Hajj and pilgrimage are considered as the largest contributor to the Saudi economy after oil. Saudi government earns roughly 12 billion dollars annually from pilgrimage and tourism. Right now, due to the outbreak of coronavirus, the largest Saudi import which is the oil is facing huge setbacks. The oil demand is reduced all around the world due to curfews and lockdowns imposed globally. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is also facing problems due to price wars with Russia.
Therefore the Saudi oil industry is facing a huge crisis and the government is relying heavily upon the annual hajj pilgrimage. Hajj is being considered as the backbone of the ambitious economic reforms that are being planned by Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. If Hajj is cancelled, the Saudi government is expected to bear an economic loss of more than 5 Billion US dollars.
This will put the Saudi economic conditions in great jeopardy. More than half a million people are also employed in the country’s tourism sector which will also face huge loss. Moreover, this will also be a shock to the Muslim world as Hajj is considered as once in a lifetime obligation to all Muslims.
Steps were taken by the Saudi Government
The Saudi government has already announced a 32 billion dollar fund to the health sector in order to control the effects of coronavirus. They are also trying hard to make Hajj possible by reducing the number of pilgrims. The Hajj and Umrah minister has suggested that if the current pandemic situation is not controlled till July, Hajj will take place with fewer pilgrims from the local residencies. Such downsizing measures are already being implemented as the worshippers in Mecca’s grand mosque are reduced to the staff, officials and cleaners only.
The Saudi Government is also working to introduce Technological innovations for pilgrims to prevent the spread of coronavirus. One such innovation is “nap pods” which were designed by Japan in 2018. These are basically isolation pods where pilgrims are provided with a ventilated enclosed space where they can rest and perform their offerings to Allah.
If this system is introduced, it can result in a safe Hajj experience. However, these nap pods will not be able to accommodate 2 million pilgrims from all over the world. Therefore the government is working hard so that the Hajj can take place but will less number of pilgrims in order to ensure safety.
What will be the future of Hajj under current pandemic conditions?
The current coronavirus situations are quite alarming. If a proper vaccine or cure is not available soon, the Muslims around the world who are preparing for the annual pilgrimage is likely to face disappointment. Hajj will, however, take place as the Saudi government states but with few pilgrims that will include only the residents of Mecca.
This can result in a huge setback to the Saudi economy which is relying desperately on pilgrimage after the huge reduction in oil demands all over the world. Moreover, the Muslims around the world who are preparing for the annual pilgrimage will also have to face huge disappointment but this is for their own safety. We still hope that a proper cure or vaccine for coronavirus gets in the market and Muslims can perform the sacred Hajj safely.