ISLAMABAD, Jun 22 (APP):Saudi Arabia on Monday decided to hold Hajj this year with “a very limited number of pilgrims from various nationalities already residing in the Kingdom”.

“This decision has been taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols,” the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said in a statement shared on the twitter handle of the Kingdom’s Foreign Ministry.

The decision came as an extraordinary measure to protect the people from the risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Hajj Ministry said as the COVID-19 had spread to over 180 countries with seven million cases and half a million deaths, it was important to consider the risks of the disease and the infections spreading in crowded gatherings where it was difficult to maintain safe social distancing.

It mentioned that the top priority of Saudi Arabia was to enable the Muslim pilgrims to perform Hajj and Umrah rites safely and securely.

“[Saudi Arabia] has been keen since the beginning of the pandemic to take all necessary precautionary measures to protect pilgrims including by suspending the entry of Umrah pilgrims while ensuring the safety of the pilgrims already present at the holy sites,” it said.

The ministry said the “decision had received many approbations from Islamic and international organizations in recognition of its wide contribution to fighting the virus globally and supporting the efforts of health organizations in limiting the spread of the deadly disease.”

“The Government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is honoured to serve millions of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims annually and it confirms that this decision stems from the top priority it accords maintaining the safety of pilgrims on its land until they depart to their home countries,” it added.