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Iran Says Thousands Register To Go To Hajj Despite Pandemic

Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in their holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 8, 2019. FILE PHOTO

The Islamic Republic's head of Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization (HPO) says that applicants have already registered for nearly ninety percent of Iran's share in the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

However, Saudi Arabia had earlier called on Muslims around the world to refrain from planning for the Hajj until the coronavirus outbreak comes under control.

Nonetheless, the head of the HPO, Alireza Rashidian, claimed that although Saudi Arabia's officials had not yet officially announced their position toward the current year's Hajj, registration process and selection of the Hajj caravans have taken place in Iran.

According to Rashidian, 88% of the capacity of the Iran’s Hajj allotment has been completed so far, and their training classes are being held online due to the pandemic.

Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Benten, called on all Muslims around the world on April 1 to refrain from planning for Hajj until the deadly virus outbreak was settled.

As of May 22, the official number of Saudis tested positive for coronavirus exceeded 67,000, while it is believed that the country's official numbers are usually lower than the real figure. Therefore, it is not yet clear whether the current year's Hajj will take place. Iran also has at least 130,000 cases and estimates put the real number much higher.

Nevertheless, Rashidian expressed hope that the Hajj ceremony would be held "under health protocols," depending on "Saudi capabilities." Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitter regional rivals.

However, Rashidian did not elaborate on what would happen in about a month, when the annual Hajj begins, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia and other countries to ensure a safe pilgrimage.

During the Hajj, about 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world, including about 87,000 people from Iran, travel to Saudi Arabia every year for two weeks.

Most Iranian Hajj pilgrims are elderly, and at greater risk for developing COVID-19.

Comparing figures given by Rashidian with the numbers of Hajj registration in the same period last year shows that many Iranians have decided to give up their turn for attending the annual ceremony, lest contract the coronavirus related deadly disease, COVID-19.

The registration fee for this year's Hajj pilgrimage in Iran has been announced from 320 million rials (approximately $2,000) to 410 million rials (about $2,500). The exchange rate is calculated based on the unofficial, free market median value.