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Indonesia Cancels Hajj Pilgrimage, Citing Risks Of Travel During Pandemic

Indonesia, home to more Muslims than any country in the world, is canceling this year's hajj pilgrimage to holy sites in Saudi Arabia, saying the health and safety of travelers would be at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our religion teaches us that saving lives is an obligation. That is the consideration in this policy," Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi said Tuesday during a news conference in Jakarta.

The decision comes weeks before the first group of pilgrims was slated to leave Indonesia to begin their journey to the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina.

But Mecca, Islam's holiest city, is currently under a 24-hour curfew because of the coronavirus, and it's expected to remain so until at least June 21.

Saudi Arabia currently has nearly 90,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while Indonesia has just over 27,500, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

In a normal year, Saudi Arabia sets quotas for millions of pilgrims based on their country of origin. But the kingdom has not yet announced whether it will allow visitors for this year's hajj, and it canceled most international travel in March because of the coronavirus.

"Indonesia, which has the largest quota of haj pilgrims in the world, initially planned to send up to 221,000 people for the annual Muslim tradition," The Jakarta Post reports.

With uncertainty lingering over this year's hajj, there wouldn't be enough time to process visas, coordinate flights and also enforce mandatory 14-day quarantines for pilgrims, the Ministry of Religious Affairs says.

Indonesia's decision to cancel the pilgrimage applies to all Indonesian citizens, whether or not they were planning to travel for the hajj under the government's official quota, Razi said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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