Saudi Arabia Suspends Entry for Pilgrims over Coronavirus

Saudi Arabia Suspends Entry for Pilgrims over Coronavirus

Riyadh (AFP)– Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for sees to Islam’s holiest sites for the “umrah” pilgrimage, an extraordinary relocation set off by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the hajj, which starts in July.

The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, likewise suspended visas for travelers from nations with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen.

Saudi Arabia, which up until now has actually reported no cases of the infection but has actually expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries, said the suspensions were short-lived. It offered no timeframe for when they will be lifted.

” The kingdom’s government has actually decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the function of umrah and see to the Prophet’s mosque temporarily,” the foreign ministry stated in a statement.

” Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those originating from countries, in which the spread of the brand-new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger.”

Gulf nations have already revealed a raft of procedures, consisting of flight suspensions and school closures, to suppress the spread of the disease from people returning from pilgrimages to Iran.

— Logistical headache–

The umrah, which refers to the Islamic expedition to Mecca that can be carried out at any time of year, brings in tens of thousands of devout Muslims from all over the globe every month.

There was no clearness over how the move would impact the yearly hajj trip due to begin in late July.

Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from throughout the world to participate in 2015’s hajj– among the 5 pillars of Islam.

The hajj and the umrah centre on the western city of Capital and its surrounding hills and valleys.

The hajj represents a key initiation rite for Muslims and an enormous logistical obstacle for Saudi authorities, with gigantic crowds stuffing into fairly little holy websites.

Saudi Arabia’s custodianship of Capital and Medina– Islam’s two holiest sites– is viewed as the kingdom’s most effective source of political legitimacy.

However a series of lethal disasters over the years has triggered criticism of the Sunni kingdom’s management of the pilgrimage.

In September 2015, a stampede killed as much as 2,300 worshippers– including hundreds of Iranians– in the worst disaster ever to strike the pilgrimage.

The expedition forms an important source of revenue for the government.

De facto ruler Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform strategy looks for to shift the economy of Saudi Arabia– the world’s top crude exporter– far from oil dependency towards other sources of income, consisting of spiritual tourist.

Even as the variety of fresh coronavirus cases declines at the epicentre of the disease in China, there has actually been an abrupt boost in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Iran has actually become a significant hotspot in the region, with 19 deaths from 139 infections– the highest death toll outside China, where COVID-19 stemmed.

The Gulf states of Kuwait and Bahrain have likewise revealed additional cases this week.

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