In a major blow to the air industry across the Muslim world, the Government of Saudi Arabia has announced it will permit only "a small and very limited" number of pilgrims during this year's Hajj, and most likely ban all foreigners from participating in the event.

Hajj Minister Muhammad Benten said during a virtual press conference that the number of pilgrims allowed to participate in this year's pilgrimage could be as low as 1,000 Saudi residents to ensure social distancing. While final details are still under review, he confirmed that the number of pilgrims allowed will definitely be "in the thousands". All faithful participating in the event will have to be quarantined both before and after the Hajj. Citizens aged over 65 will not be allowed to go to Mecca.

In 2019, 2.5 pilgrims participated in Hajj, of whom nearly 2 million came from outside Saudi Arabia. This year's Hajj period starts on July 28 and runs through August 2.

Saudi Arabia has already paused Umrah pilgrimages, which can take place at any time of year, since February.

While drastic, the Saudi decision was expected as the governments of major Muslim countries around the world, including Indonesia and Malaysia, said earlier that they would not allow their citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia for this year's Hajj. The decision to limit the scale of this year's pilgrimage has also been lauded by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Hajj is a key market for Saudi carriers Saudia (SV, Jeddah) and flynas (XY, Riyadh) as well as multiple other airlines from Muslim countries, which operate charters for the pilgrims to Jeddah and Madinah.