(Riyadh) AFP: Saudi Arabia yesterday suspended visas for visits to Islam’s holiest sites for the “umrah” pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the annual hajj.
The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, also suspended visas for tourists from countries with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen.
Saudi Arabia, which so far has reported no cases of the virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries, said the suspensions were temporary.
But it provided no timeframe for when they will be lifted, and the decision left tens of thousands of pilgrims preparing to visit the kingdom from around the world in limbo.
“The kingdom’s government has decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet’s mosque temporarily,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those coming from countries in which the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger.”
The measures comes amid a spike in coronavirus cases across the Middle East even as the number has declined in China, where the disease originated.
Since its outbreak, the United Arab Emirates has reported 13 coronavirus cases, Kuwait 43, Bahrain 33 and Oman 4.