Muslims should delay making Hajj plans due to coronavirus fears, says Saudi Arabia

Kit Heren
Great gathering: millions of Muslims descend on Mecca during the Hajj each year: AFP/Getty Images

Muslims should wait before making Hajj plans this year as fears over the global coronavirus pandemic continue to rise, Saudi Arabia has said.

The Hajj, due to take place this year from July 28-August 2, is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that all Muslims should attend at least once if they are able, according to Islamic tradition.

More than two million people take part every year, with pilgrims flying in from all over the world. Halting the pilgrimage would be unprecedented in recent history.

But events within the Hajj involve tightly-packed crowds, which would go against social distancing recommendations.

Pilgrims at Hajj in a previous year (AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Minister for Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Benten told the state-run Al-Ekhbariya television: "Saudi Arabia is fully ready to serve pilgrims and Umrah seekers.

"But under the current circumstances, as we are talking about the global pandemic... the kingdom is keen to protect the health of Muslims and citizens and so we have asked our brother Muslims in all countries to wait before doing [Hajj] contracts until the situation is clear."

But Saudi Arabia had already cast doubt on the 2020 event after suspending Umrah, a less important pilgrimage that takes place year-round.

Saudi Arabia has also halted all international flights indefinitely.

The Middle Eastern country has had more than 1,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far. Ten people have died after contracting the virus.