Indonesia to skip Hajj pilgrimage over coronavirus fears

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

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

“The government has decided to cancel the Hajj 2020 as the Saudi Arabian authorities failed to provide certainty,” Fachrul Razi, Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, said during a news conference in the capital, Jakarta.

“This was a very bitter and difficult decision. But we have a responsibility to protect our pilgrims and Hajj workers.”

Saudi authorities have already said the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages – which attract millions of travellers from around the world – will remain suspended until further notice.

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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, 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.

‘God has another plan’

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Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world usually flock to Mecca and Medina cities for the week-long ritual scheduled to begin in late July.

The pilgrimage is also a significant source of income for the kingdom but risks becoming a major source of contagion if millions flock to Mecca’s religious sites.

The quota for Indonesian pilgrims this year was 221,000, with more than 90 percent already registered to go, according to the religious affairs ministry website.

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 news agency as she sobbed.

“All my preparations were done, the clothes were ready and I got the necessary vaccination. But God has another plan.”

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