Saudi Arabia suspends Umrah pilgrimage due to coronavirus

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Saudi Arabia suspended Umrah pilgrimages to the two cities of Mecca and Medina for Saudi citizens and the kingdom’s other residents due to coronavirus concerns, state news agency SPA reported on Wednesday.

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015./AP Photo

Saudi Arabia reported its first case of the new coronavirus on Monday from an individual who had not disclosed his visit to Iran when entering Saudi Arabia.

“Based on the recommendations of the committee appointed to monitor coronavirus it has been decided to suspend Umrah for citizens and residents in the kingdom,” SPA said, citing an official source in the Saudi interior ministry.

The decision will be reviewed regularly and reversed when the situation changes, it added.

Saudi Arabia last week halted Umrah visas for foreigners and banned Gulf citizens from visiting the two cities because of the virus.

It also banned tourists from at least 25 countries where the virus has been found, and on Tuesday it limited arrivals of travelers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

Pilgrimage is big business for Saudi Arabia and is the backbone of plans to develop tourism under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious economic reform agenda.

Visits by pilgrims accelerate during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, beginning this year in late April.

In late July, some 2 million pilgrims are expected for the week-long haj, the world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims, which has a separate visa regime.

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