Coronavirus outbreak: Saudi Arabia suspends Umrah pilgrimage

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International desk, Mar 05: After imposing a temporary ban on Umrah pilgrims to stop the spread of coronavirus, Saudi Arabia has now suspended all Umrah pilgrimages for its nationals and expatriates.The Saudi government announced the suspension order on Wednesday as it reported its second case of the new coronavirus, reports Arab News.

Last week, the Kingdom imposed a ban on overseas pilgrims visiting the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

Saudi Interior Ministry said the ban now applies to Saudi nationals and expatriates to “limit the spread of the coronavirus and prevent its access to the Two Holy Mosques, which are witnessing permanent and intense crowds, which makes the issue of securing these crowds of utmost importance”.

Deputy Hajj Minister Abdulfattah Mashat said Saudis and expats may still visit Makkah and Madinah to pray provided they do not go for Umrah.

“Makkah is still open to visitors from across the Kingdom, the decision suspends only Umrah activities,” he told Al Arabiya TV.

Saudi Arabia reported its second coronavirus case on Wednesday, a companion of the first, who crossed the causeway from Bahrain without disclosing that he had visited Iran.

Authorities quarantined 70 people who had been in contact with the patient and 51 of them tested negative for the virus, the Ministry of Health said.

There are now more than 3,150 cases across the Middle East, almost all either in or linked to Iran, which has 2,922 confirmed cases and 92 deaths.

Authorities cancelled Friday prayers in all provincial capitals and banned overseas trips for officials.

Coronavirus, which originated in China’s Wuhan, has infected more than 94,250 people globally and caused 3,214 deaths.