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Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia bans all religious pilgrims and foreigners from virus-hit countries

Decision comes just months before annual hajj pilgrimage

Chiara Giordano
Thursday 27 February 2020 08:10 GMT
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Covid-19: Which worldwide events have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak?

Saudi Arabia has banned all religious pilgrims and foreigners from coronavirus-hit countries from entering the country over outbreak fears.

The country’s decision comes just months before the annual hajj pilgrimage and after 220 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 illness have been recorded in the Middle East.

The move stops tourists and pilgrims from reaching the holy city of Mecca and the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day.

Fears over the outbreak potentially spreading into Saudi Arabia appear to have prompted the decision, with the country’s oil-rich monarchy staking its legitimacy on protecting Islam’s holy sites.

The centre of the outbreak in Iran, the most-affected country in the Middle East, appears to be in the holy Shiite city of Qom, where a shrine there sees the faithful reach out to kiss and touch it in reverence.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “Saudi Arabia renews its support for all international measures to limit the spread of this virus, and urges its citizens to exercise caution before travelling to countries experiencing coronavirus outbreaks.

“We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm.”

Disease outbreaks always have been a concern surrounding the hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life, especially as pilgrims come from all over the world.

The earliest recorded outbreak came in 632 as pilgrims fought off malaria, while a cholera outbreak in 1821 killed an estimated 20,000 pilgrims and another cholera outbreak in 1865 killed 15,000 pilgrims and then spread worldwide.

Additional reporting by Associated Press.

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