Saudi Arabia suspends Umrah visits over coronavirus fears - GulfToday

Saudi Arabia suspends Umrah visits over coronavirus fears


Pilgrims wear protective face masks to prevent contracting coronavirus, as they arrive at the Grand Mosque in the Holy City of Makkah on Thursday. AFP

Even as the coronavirus seemed to be spreading its malignant influence in new countries outside China, countries in the Middle East were leaving nothing to chance, revving up preparations to tackle the problem on a war footing.

Iraq and Turkey have shut borders with Iran. Bahrain has closed schools and nurseries for two weeks. Iraq banned public gatherings and barred entry by travellers from Kuwait and Bahrain.

Even Saudi Arabia was not taking any chances: in a major move on Thursday it halted travel to the holiest sites in Islam over fears about the viral epidemic just months ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, a move that came as the Mideast has over 220 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.

The extraordinary decision by Saudi Arabia stops foreigners from reaching the Holy City of Makkah.

The decision also affected travel to Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) mosque in Medina. Authorities also suspended entry to the kingdom to those with tourist visas from nations affected by the new virus.

Pilgrims are seen around the Kaaba.

Iran now has the highest death toll from the virus outside of China, where the outbreak began.

There have been no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Saudi Arabia amid the outbreak.

"Saudi Arabia renews its support for all international measures to limit the spread of this virus, and urges its citizens to exercise caution before traveling to countries experiencing coronavirus outbreaks,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement announcing the decision. "We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm.”

Since it emerged in December in central China, the new coronavirus has sickened 82,000 people globally, with more than 2,700 deaths.


1 000 Hajj pilgrims receive gift bags

Awareness campaign on health and safety of Hajj pilgrims launched

130 year old Indonesian arrives for Hajj on Saudi King invitation

While millions attend the Hajj, which is this year set for late July into early August, millions more come during the rest of the year to the holy sites in the kingdom. Those other pilgrimages are referred to as the Umrah. One of the biggest times for the Umrah is the Holy Month of Ramadan, which is set to begin at the end of April.

SaudiMinisterVirusHealth Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah, centre left, meets with health officials to discuss the latest situation on coronavirus, at the Saudi Food and Drug Authority in Riyadh. AP

"It is unprecedented, at least in recent times, but given the worldwide spread of the virus and the global nature of the Umrah, it makes sense from a public health and safety point of view,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. "Especially since the Iranian example illustrates how a religious crossroads can so quickly amplify the spread and reach of the virus.”

Related articles