International desk – Saudi Arabia has decided not to take Muslims pilgrims from across the world to check spread of the coronavirus infection, media report said on Thursday.
The kingdom in the Middle East hosts hundreds of thousands of Muslims to perform umrah and haj at the two holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina. The peak for the hajj pilgrimage is due to begin this year in July.
Initially, the authorities have barred the pilgrims attending the umrah, but it was not clear whether the foreigners will be allowed during its peak haj season in July.
The ministry of foreign affairs said the suspensions were temporary – but did not say when they would end.
The two holy sites are – Mecca, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, is home to Islam’s holiest shrine. Medina is where he is buried.
Non-religious tourists from countries with reported coronavirus infections will also be denied entry officials said, but without specifying which countries.
The measures were taken to check spread of the deadly virus as neighboring Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates have reported dozens of cases. The kingdom has not reported yet any coronavirus infection.
It was also suspending entry by citizens from Gulf States traveling under their national IDs, as well as travel by Saudis to the Gulf States.
Saudi Arabia said this week that 400,000 tourist visas had been issued since October.
The global death toll from the coronavirus, outbreak of which was began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, has neared 3,000 while nearly 80,000 people were infected.
In Europe, Italy now has 400 cases – a 25% surge in a day, according to BBC. Several European countries have announced new cases, traced to Italy.
The virus has been traced in about 40 countries.