New Guidelines Issued for Hajj 2020

CDC recommends Americans not make their pilgrimage in 2020
picture of the hajj
Saudi Arabia (Vax Before Travel)

The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that only people who currently reside in the Kindom of Saudi Arabia will be permitted to make their pilgrimage during 2020, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 3 Travel Alert on June 29, 2020, recommending that Americans already in Saudi Arabia not make the pilgrimage.

Annually, over 11,000 pilgrims travel from the USA.

The CDC stated that mass gatherings, such as Hajj, can increase the risk for infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

It can be difficult to practice social distancing when attending mass gatherings such as Hajj, which increases a person’s risk of becoming infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Unlike many countries, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia took the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus outbreak seriously from the outset.

And the recent outbreak data indicates very positive results.

As of June 30, 2020, data sources indicate there have only been 1,649 fatalities related to COVID-19 disease this year.

The Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is one of the world’s largest annual mass gatherings. Approximately 2 million Muslims from about 183 countries make Hajj each year.

In 2020, Hajj will take place July 28–August 2nd.

Hajj and Umrah are religious pilgrimages. Islamic religious doctrine dictates that every able-bodied adult Muslim who can afford to do so is obligated to make Hajj at least once in his or her lifetime. 

The timing of Hajj is based on the lunar Islamic calendar and varies with respect to the Gregorian calendar, occurring about 11 days earlier each successive year.

Muslims may perform Umrah, the “minor pilgrimage,” any time of the year; unlike Hajj, Umrah is not compulsory.

Specifically, this new CDC Alert says ‘older adults and people of any age with serious underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.’

If you get sick while attending Hajj and need to go to the hospital, medical resources may be limited. 

In addition, if you get sick with COVID-19 while abroad, you may be isolated or not allowed to return to the United States until after you have recovered from your illness, says the CDC.

Most international pilgrims fly into Jeddah or Medina and take a bus to Mecca. Pilgrims then travel by foot or by bus approximately 5 miles to the tent city of Mina, the largest temporary city in the world, where most pilgrims stay in air-conditioned tents.

For Hajj pilgrims, the CDC issued these guidelines to reduce your chances of infection:

  • Avoid contact with live animals or uncooked animal products.
  • Follow food safety and water safety guidelines.
  • For head-shaving rituals, use only clean, unused, single-use, disposable razors.
  • Perform rituals during non-peak hours.

And, from a travel safety perspective, the CDC suggests the following:

  • Know all emergency exit locations and how to get there.
  • Keep copies of your passport and entry stamp with you.
  • Enter local emergency service numbers and contact information for the nearest US embassy or consulate into your mobile phone.
  • Follow all local laws and social customs.

And when you return to the USA, stay home, or in a comparable location, such as a hotel, for 14 days after arriving in the United States.

The CDC suggests various pre-travel vaccinations when preparing to visit Saudi Arabia, which can be found at this CDC webpage.

Vax-Before-Travel publishes CDC Travel Alert news.