Saudi Arabia suspends pilgrimages over coronavirus fears
In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia suspended visas for visits to Islam’s holiest sites for the “umrah” pilgrimage over fears of the coronavirus.
'Umrah' is the minor pilgrimage performed any time of the year, contrary to regular pilgrimage (or 'Hajj') which is performed at a specific time of the year.
The kingdom also suspended tourist visas from countries with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen.
“The kingdom’s government has decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet’s mosque temporarily,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those coming from countries, in which the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger.”
In neighbouring Kuwait, the country’s health ministry said that the number of coronavirus cases had increased to 43.
"All cases are stable... and are receiving the necessary medical treatment," the ministry said.
Kuwait also suspended all flights to Singapore and Japan as a precaution against the spread of the virus, according to Al Arabiya.
Kuwait Airways announced February 20 the suspension of flights with Iran "until further notice." However, the airliner has been organising trips to evacuate Kuwaiti citizens from Iran.
The country also banned flights to and from Iraq, Italy, South Korea and Thailand, state news agency KUNA reported.
Kuwait's central bank has urged citizens to avoid using cash and to instead use credit and debit cards to mitigate the potential spread of the virus, the news-focused Twitter account Al-Majlis reported.
No new cases have been reported in the UAE since February 22, when it was announced that the number of coronavirus infections reached 13. Dubai International Airport, a major transit hub, announced February 25 that it would cancel some flights to Iran, with the exception of the capital Tehran.
Bahrain said that it has identified a total of 33 coronavirus cases, official news agency BNA reported .
The new cases were found in three Bahraini women who had returned from Iran via indirect flights, BNA added.
The country has also suspended all flights coming from Dubai International Airport and Sharjah International Airport in the United Arab Emirates for 48 hours starting from February 25, the news agency reported.
BNA also said that the country has suspended public and private schools and kindergartens for two weeks starting from February 26 as a "precautionary measure."