Saudi Arabia confirmed on Wednesday the kingdom’s second case of coronavirus infection after a citizen returned from Iran via Bahrain. In light of the situation, the country suspended all Umrah pilgrimages, the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
The kingdom imposed a ban last week on overseas pilgrims (including citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council) visiting the Grand Mosque in Makkah as well as the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah - two of Islam’s holiest cities. So with the new ban, now Saudi nationals and expatriates both are barred from performing Umrah.
The decision comes with an aim to limit the spread of the coronavirus and prevent its access to the two Holy Mosques, which are witnessing permanent and intense crowds.
It remains unclear how long the ban on Umrah pilgrimages will be implemented, however, Saudi Deputy Hajj Minister Abdulfattah Mashat said Makkah is still open to visitors from across the Kingdom, the decision suspends only Umrah activities.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims from around the world come to the Great Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to take part in the annual pilgrimage. However, no confirmation has been given by the Saudi authorities on whether the coronavirus outbreak will affect this year's annual Hajj pilgrimage that is set to take place in July.
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