Saudi Suspends Umrah Visas Over Coronavirus Fears

Saudi Arabia has temporarily suspended the entry of foreigners for Umrah pilgrimage and tourism purposes over coronavirus fears.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the decision on Thursday as health authorities take precautionary measures to prevent COVID-19 from reaching the kingdom.

The government is “suspending entry to the Kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque temporarily”, the foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by Agence France Press (AFP).

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Saudi Arabia has not reported any cases of the new coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization’s latest situation report.

The kingdom urged its citizens to “exercise caution before traveling to countries experiencing Coronavirus outbreaks,” the ministry said in a tweet.

The coronavirus virus originated from the central Chinese city of Wuhan and has quickly spread to more than 32 countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday that there have been 78,811 reported cases of Covid-19 [the WHO official name of the novel coronavirus disease] and 2,462 related deaths.

This move came as the Middle East has over 240 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. Neighboring countries such as Iran, Kuwait and Bahrain have all reported confirmed cases of the disease.

The mingling of visitors from many countries, some of which have poor healthcare systems still plagued by preventable infectious diseases, can lead to the spread of epidemics.

In 2013, similar precautionary measures were taken by the Saudi government, urging “elderly and chronically ill Muslims to avoid the hajj that year” and the authorities also restricted the numbers of people allowed into the country due to Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).