A relatively fewer number of Muslims pray around the Kaaba in Holy City of Makkah on Wednesday. AP
Saudi Arabia suspended Umrah pilgrimages to the two Holy cities of Makkah and Medina for Saudi citizens and the kingdom's other residents due to coronavirus concerns, state news agency SPA reported on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia reported its first case of the new coronavirus on Monday from an individual who had not disclosed his visit to Iran when entering Saudi Arabia.
Cleaners wear protective face masks, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, as they swipe the floor at the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque on Tuesday. Reuters
"Based on the recommendations of the committee appointed to monitor coronavirus...it has been decided to suspend Umrah for citizens and residents in the kingdom," SPA said, citing an official source in the Saudi interior ministry.
The decision will be reviewed regularly and reversed when the situation changes, it added.
They were also barred from "visits to the Prophet's mosque in Medina," according to a foreign ministry tweet.
Saudi Arabia last week halted Umrah visas for foreigners and banned Gulf citizens from visiting the two cities because of the virus.
It also banned tourists from at least 25 countries where the virus has been found, and on Tuesday it limited arrivals of travellers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
Taimur Saleem Jhagra, the Health Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where both victims died, told AFP the men had recently travelled internationally.
"We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia, which along with Kuwait suspended all international flights and closed most public spaces, said it was considering suspending work for the private sector after doing so for the government sector, except health and security.
"We hope citizens will stay at home and not go out unless needed," Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah told a news conference on Monday.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Thursday that several countries were not showing "the level of political commitment" needed to "match the level of the threat we all face." "This is not a drill," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters. "This epidemic is a threat for every country, rich and poor."
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