Saudi Arabia suspends Umrah pilgrimage due to coronavirus fears

Saudi Arabia suspended the “umrah” pilgrimage for the year on Wednesday due to fears that the new coronavirus will spread to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the interior ministry said.

The Gulf State has decided to “temporarily suspend Umrah for the citizens and residents of the kingdom,” the ministry said in a statement released by the official Saudi news agency.

They were also banned from “visiting the Prophet’s mosque in Medina,” according to a tweet from the Foreign Ministry.

The move comes after Saudi Arabia last week suspended pilgrimage visas and banned citizens of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council from entering Mecca and Medina, two of the world’s largest cities. sacred of Islam.

Saudi Arabia confirmed its first case of a new coronavirus on Monday after one of its citizens who returned from the COVID-19 hotspot in Iran tested positive.

These unprecedented movements have left thousands of Muslim pilgrims in limbo, increasing uncertainty about the annual hajj to Mecca scheduled for the end of July.

The holy places, which attract millions of pilgrims each year, are a potential source of contagion but also a key source of income and a pillar of political legitimacy for Saudi leaders.