Saudi Arabia cuts Hajj Quota for foreign pilgrims by 20 percent

Manila, Philippines --- Hajj 2013 is expected to be a little less crowded after the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia slashed foreign pilgrims by 20 percent and domestic pilgrims by 50 percent.

Figures showed 3,161,000 Musliment on the pilgrimage in 2012, with about a million of them from the Kingdom.

Each country has a hajj quota of 1,000 pilgrims per one million Muslim population.

Official figures for the Philippines had 6,000 pilgrims in 2012, based on the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).

NCMF Secretary Mehol K.Sadain told the Manila Bulletin yesterday Filipino pilgrims will not be affected by the hajj cuts, indicating the Philippines has not once reached its 12,000 quota.

The Saudi government cut the hajj quota because of the massive expansion work being done at the Masjidil Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca.

Expansion is being implemented at the mosque's "mataf" (circumambulation area around the Ka'aba), to increase its per hour capacity from 39,000 to over 130,000 pilgrims.

Hajj Minister Mohammad bin Bandar Hajjar said Sunday the reduction of "the numbers of pilgrims at home by 50 percent and abroad by 20 percent is exceptional and temporary until the completion of the expansionist projects at the Holy Sites."

Meanwhile, the Kingdom also urged pilgrims, particularly the repeaters, to postpone their hajj until the mataf's expansion is completed in about two years to prevent congestion and deadly stampedes.

As this developed, the Saudi hajj ministry announced Monday that four more people succumbed to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-Cov).

MERS-CoV has been likened to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that spread across the world in 2003, killing 775 people.

A Saudi Gazette news report said the MERS-CoV killed two persons in Taif while the other two fatalities were traced in the Eastern Province.

The report said three new persons also fell ill due to the SARS' "distant relative."
It is not yet known how the MERS-CoV crisis might affect this year's hajj.