More than 60,000 Pakistanis apply for Hajj despite coronavirus fears

ISLAMABAD (Monitoring Desk): Detailing a count of the total Hajj applications received in the past one week, Ministry of Religious Affairs Spokesperson Imran Siddiqui said on Sunday that more than 60,000 Pakistanis had expressed an interest to perform the pilgrimage this year.

The huge number is despite the fears arising from the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 2,900 across the globe, with 4 confirmed cases reported in Pakistan.

To facilitate interested pilgrims, Pakistan’s central bank has directed 13 authorized banks to remain open on Saturdays and Sundays. The banks began accepting applications on February 25, with March 6 set as the final day for the registration process.

Late last month, the federal cabinet approved the Hajj Policy 2020 under which 179,210 pilgrims are expected to perform Hajj this year. Sixty percent of those will be part of a government-facilitated Hajj scheme while 40 percent will avail the services of private operators.

The Hajj registration process follows a temporary ban on Umrah pilgrims by Saudi Arabia on February 27, in an attempt to ensure public safety and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Commenting on the move, Saudi Ambassador to Islamabad Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki – in a meeting with Pakistan’s Religious Affairs’ Minister, Noor-ul-Haq Qadri – said on Friday that the Kingdom had only imposed a temporary travel ban which would be lifted as soon as the authorities were able to devise an appropriate mechanism for pilgrims’ safety.