Indonesia pulls out of annual Mecca pilgrimage over virus fears

Indonesia pulls out of annual Mecca pilgrimage over virus fears

This picture taken on May 24, 2020 during the early hours of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday which starts at the conclusion of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, shows an aerial view of Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca, with the Abraj al-Bait Mecca Royal Clock Tower overlooking the Grand Mosque and Kaaba in the centre. (AFP photo)
This picture taken on May 24, 2020 during the early hours of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday which starts at the conclusion of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, shows an aerial view of Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca, with the Abraj al-Bait Mecca Royal Clock Tower overlooking the Grand Mosque and Kaaba in the centre. (AFP photo)

Indonesia is pulling out of the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca over coronavirus fears, the religious affairs ministry said Tuesday, removing the largest contingent of worshippers.

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 lives if able.

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

On Tuesday, Indonesia said it was pulling out of the pilgrimage, which last year drew about 2.5 million Muslims to Saudi Arabia from across the globe.

"This was a very bitter and difficult decision," religious affairs minister Fachrul Razi told a televised press briefing.

"But we have a responsibility to protect our pilgrims and hajj workers."

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.

The hajj is a key revenue earner for the kingdom but risks becoming a major source of contagion if millions flock to Mecca's religious sites.

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 as she sobbed.

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


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