Coronavirus: WHO backs 'tough' decision to limit Hajj pilgrimage

Tedros Ghebreyesus says countries struggle to meet the demand for oxygen to treat patients

Powered by automated translation

The World Health Organisation has backed the decision of Saudi Arabia to drastically limit this year’s Hajj pilgrimage.

WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said there were major questions about how to hold large gatherings safely as countries start to ease some restrictions and reopen their economies.

“This [decision] is another example of the hard choices that all countries must make to put health first,” the director general said.

“We understand that it was not an easy decision to make. And we also understand it is a major disappointment for many Muslims who are looking forward to making their pilgrimage this year,” Mr Tedros said in Geneva on Wednesday.

“This decision was made based on a risk assessment and analysis of different scenarios in accordance with WHO’s guidance to protect the safety of pilgrims and minimise the risk of transmission. WHO supports this decision.”

Inside a mobile health clinic in Makkah

Inside a mobile health clinic in Makkah

On Monday, Riyadh announced that only “thousands” of people who already reside within the kingdom would be allowed to take part in this year’s Hajj, down from about 2.5 million who usually travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual event.

The measures are intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and comes after Saudi Arabia – and nations around the world – took drastic measures including lockdowns, travel restrictions, closing borders, closing venues and shutting schools, offices and universities to limit the spread.

As the world approaches the grim milestone of 10 million confirmed cases, Mr Tedros warned that while research for a vaccine must continue, so must therapeutic efforts for those currently suffering from the disease.

People with severe symptoms of Covid-19 need extra oxygen.

However, Mr Tedros said many countries were struggling to get oxygen cylinders.

"The world needs about 620,000 cubic metres of oxygen a day – which is about 88,000 large cylinders [and] …demand is currently outstripping supply."

Mr Tedros said oxygen concentrators and other equipment are being supplied in co-ordination with UN's partners to countries that need them most.

The number of cases per week continues to increase, he said.

“In the first month of this outbreak, less than 10,000 cases were reported to WHO. In the last month, almost 4 million cases have been reported. We expect to reach a total of 10 million cases within the next week.”