Brunei on Wednesday announced that its citizens would not perform the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca this year for health concerns amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a local media report.

Speaking in a press conference, Minister of Religious Affairs Awang Badaruddin Othman said the country would not send its 1,000 yearly selected pilgrims and those traveling at their own expenses to perform the Hajj, the daily Borneo Bulletin reported.

Baddarudin said the decision was made after Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah gave his consent to the recommendation of the Brunei Islamic Religious Council, which convened last Saturday to cancel Bruneian pilgrims participation in the Hajj.

“[…] regarding the participation of Hajj pilgrims, it is confirmed that the COVID-19 pandemic still poses a global threat and that the spread of this virus is not likely to cease in the near future,” he was quoted in the newspaper.

Brunei became the fourth country in Southeast Asia to withhold its Hajj pilgrims this year following Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Last month, Singapore announced that its nationals would not perform the Hajj due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, the registration of 900 pilgrims who had signed up this year will be pushed forward to 2021.

Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs, Fachrul Razi, also decided to cancel the departure of Hajj pilgrims out of health concerns.

Indonesia has the largest contingent of pilgrims in the world, with a quota of 221,00 people this year.

Nearly 2.5 million Muslims traveled to Mecca last year for the pilgrimage, which Muslims are required to perform at least once in their life if possible, with 75% — more than 1.8 million — came from abroad, according to data from Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics.

The kingdom, which has reported more than 112,288 cases and 819 deaths so far, suspended the year-round Umrah, a lesser Islamic pilgrimage, in March.

*Writing by Rhany Chairunissa Rufinaldo from Anadolu Agency’s Indonesian language services in Jakarta.

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