Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri clarified on Sunday that the Saudi Arabia government had not taken a decision regarding the number of pilgrims being allowed to perform Haj this year and the Covid SOPs to be followed.
In a video statement, the minister said that he had spoken to the Saudi Haj and Umrah minister. "The Saudi health ministry has made recommendations, but a decision has not yet been taken," he said.
"It is my responsibility to explain this to the people. Whenever a decision is taken, Saudi officials will take us into confidence. So far, a decision has not been taken regarding the number of pilgrims and Covid SOPs," he said.
Earlier today, the minister had said that the Saudi Arabia government has allowed 60,000 pilgrims to perform Haj this year under strict Covid-19 SOPs.
In a statement, he had said that 15,000 of the pilgrims will be local while the remaining 45,000 will be allowed from different parts of the world. The minister hoped that Pakistan would also get a quota in the 45,000 international pilgrims.
"In addition to making the announcement, the Saudi government has also issued a nine-page [document] regarding precautionary measures and conditions," he had said.
He had said that pilgrims between 18 to 60 years of age will be allowed to perform Haj and will also have to present a fitness certificate. Qadri also urged those wishing to perform Haj to continue their preparations according to the directions issued by the Saudi government.
"A negative PCR test and a Covid vaccination certificate will be mandatory," he had said.
Saudi Arabia, which stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites, barred foreigners from the Haj last year due to the pandemic for the first time in the kingdom's modern history, allowing it only to a limited number of Saudi citizens and residents.
Before the pandemic enforced social distancing globally, some 2.5 million pilgrims used to visit the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Madina for the week-long Haj, and the lesser, year-round Umrah pilgrimage, which altogether earned the kingdom about $12 billion a year, according to official data.
As part of economic reform plans pursued by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom was hoping to raise the number of Umrah and Haj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and aimed to double the Umrah number again to 30 million by 2030. It aims to earn 50 billion riyals ($13.32 billion) of revenues from the Haj alone by 2030.
Additional info from Reuters