April 5, 2020 | 6:49 PM IST
Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia restricts entry of foreigners for Haj due to rise in coronavirus cases

In a rare move on Thursday, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia suspended visas of Haj pilgrims wishing to visit the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca over Coronavirus fears. The pilgrimage is scheduled to begin in late July.

The country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry took the decision after a fresh rise in cases of the disease in Asia, Europe and the Middle East were reported in the past few days. Foreign Ministry issued a statement stating that the pilgrimage can be undertaken at any time of the year and that the government is ‘suspending entry to the Kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque temporarily’. The ministry added that the visas have been suspended from countries where the new virus is a ‘danger’. The ministry said that the health authorities in Saudi Arabia are closely following the developments of the new Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Kingdom hosts millions of devout Muslims to pay obeisance at two holy sites of Islam Mecca and Medina throughout the year, but the number soars tremendously during the Haj pilgrimage.

The ministry asserted that the procedures were temporary and subject to continuous evaluation by the competent authorities. It has also appealed to its citizens not to travel to nations where the disease is on a rise.

Incidentally, Saudi Arabia’s neighbouring country, The United Arab Emirates (UAE) too has suspended all flights to and from Iran apart from Tehran over the outbreak of the disease. The UAE remains a key international transit route for Iran’s 80 million people.

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