RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has temporarily suspended its citizens and residents from performing Umrah, as well as visits to the Prophet’s (PBUH) Mosque, amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.
“Based on the recommendation of the committee concerned to follow up the developments of the situation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), it was decided to suspend Umrah temporarily for citizens and residents in the Kingdom,” said the SPA, quoting a state official.
Last Thursday, Riyadh had placed an immediate ban on Umrah pilgrims travelling from the countries where coronavirus cases have been confirmed, including Pakistan.
All airlines have been directed to inform their passengers to wait for further orders. The government is “suspending entry to the Kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque temporarily”, the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.
Umrah attracts tens of thousands of Muslims from all over the globe each month. The foreign ministry said it was also suspending visas for tourists visiting from countries where the new virus is a “danger”.
First case of coronavirus
Saudi Arabia on Monday confirmed its first case of coronavirus, the country’s health ministry confirmed.
The ministry said the patient was a Saudi man who returned from Iran to the Kingdom via Bahrain. It added that the man had not revealed his travel history.
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The Kingdom had prepared 25 hospitals beforehand to handle any coronavirus cases, ministry spokesperson Mohammed Abdelali had said a day earlier, as part of the precautionary measures that included closing its borders to foreign Umrah pilgrims.
At least 2,200 hospital beds were dedicated for quarantine cases, Abdelali had told a news conference. Saudi Arabia’s trade activity had not been impacted and was “going as usual”, he had said at the time.