An aerial views shows the deserted Grand Mosque in in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia on Thursday emptied Islam's holiest site for sterilisation over fears of the new coronavirus, an unprecedented move after the kingdom suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage.
State television relayed stunning images of an empty white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba — a large black cube structure inside Makkah’s Grand Mosque, which is usually packed with tens of thousands of pilgrims.
The move was a "temporary preventive measure" but the upper floors of the Grand Mosque were still open for prayers, a Saudi official told reporters.
Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health announced three new cases of coronavirus (COVID-19), on Thursday.
The Saudi state agency, SPA, reported the ministry as saying that laboratory results confirmed that a married couple both tested positive for COVID-19.
The two individuals hailed from Kuwait, but failed to disclose to Saudi border control officials that the male was previously in Iran, the ministry noted.
The health ministry added that a Saudi national coming from Iran via Bahrain had also contracted the virus.
The individual was in the company of two previously reported cases.
The new cases brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia to five, the ministry noted.
Saudi Arabia on Wednesday has announced the temporary suspension of Umrah pilgrimage for citizens and residents in the Kingdom, following coronavirus concerns.
"This decision is reviewed continuously and the implementation of it stops whenever the reasons that called for it are negated," said an official source of the Ministry of Interior in a statement published by the Saudi state news agency, SPA.
"This preventive decision is among precautionary measures that the Kingdom’s government has consistently taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, epidemic," it added.
The decision to suspend the Umrah comes ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan starting in late April, which is a favoured period for pilgrimage.
It is unclear how the coronavirus will affect the Hajj, due to start in late July.
Local media reports quoted Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah as saying that participantion in the Hajj season be linked to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, considering it the main condition for participation.
The kingdom's health ministry said it has administered more than five million coronavirus vaccine doses, in a country with a population of over 34 million.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in cooperation with the concerned authorities, received after midnight, the first vanguard of Umrah performers from inside the Kingdom.
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