Saudi Arabia suspends entry for pilgrims over coronavirus

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 27 2020 08:36 AM | Updated as of Feb 27 2020 09:40 AM

Passengers coming from China wearing masks to prevent a new coronavirus are checked by Saudi Health Ministry employees upon their arrival at King Khalid International Airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Jan. 29, 2020. Ahmed Yosri, Reuters

RIYADH (UPDATED) — Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for pilgrims wishing to visit Mecca over coronavirus fears, the foreign ministry said.

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, referring to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year.

Umrah attracts tens of thousands of devout Muslims from all over the globe each month.

The foreign ministry said it was also suspending visas for tourists visiting from countries where the new virus is a "danger".

Even as the number of fresh cases declines at the epicenter of the disease in China, there has been a sudden increase in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, where 15 people have succumbed to the disease -- officially known as COVID-19.

The Gulf states of Kuwait and Bahrain have also announced additional cases this week.

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