Saudi Arabia has asked intending pilgrims for the year 2020 Hajj to delay bookings amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainties surrounding the outbreak. The Hajj Minister, Mohammed Banten said the kingdom is concerned about the safety of pilgrims and urged people to “wait before concluding contracts”. Over two million intending pilgrims were expected to travel to Mecca and Medina in July and August for the annual gathering. Umrah, which is the lesser pilgrimage, has already been suspended as a precautionary measure to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are also being prevented from entering Mecca and Medina, as well as the capital Riyadh, as the Saudi authorities attempt to contain an outbreak of Covid-19 that has infected at least 1,563 people and claimed 10 lives in the country. “Saudi Arabia is fully ready to serve pilgrims and Umra seekers in all circumstances,” Mr Banten told state TV. “But under the current circumstances, as we are talking about the global pandemic, from which we have asked God to save us, the kingdom is keen to protect the health of Muslims and citizens.” “So we have asked our brother Muslims in all countries to wait before concluding contracts [with tour operators] until the situation is clear.” He noted that the Hajj and health ministries have been inspecting hotels currently being used to accommodate people who had undertaken Umra before the suspension, urging them to self-isolate. The minister also added that, for the time being, people who had purchased Umra visas and could not be used would be refunded the cost. Muslims who are physically and financially capable must undertake the Hajj once in a lifetime as it is one of the five obligatory pillars of Islam.