Saudi Arabia temporarily suspends entry for Umrah amid coronavirus fears

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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Thursday temporarily suspended the entry of pilgrims who visit the Kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque, in an attempt to ensure public safety by preventing the spread of the coronavirus epidemic that has so far claimed lives of nearly 2800 people.

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement, also imposed restrictions on pilgrims who visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah before or after the completion of their religious duties in Makkah, Arab News reported.

The ministry said that the caution was announced as health authorities in the Kingdom are closely monitoring the spread of the virus. Tourist-visa holders from countries judged to pose a particularly high risk of spreading the virus will also be denied entry.

“These precautions are based on the recommendations of the competent health authorities to apply the highest precautionary standards, and take proactive preventive measures to prevent the arrival of the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) to the Kingdom and its spread,” it added.

In addition, Saudi nationals and citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations will also not be able to use a national identity card to travel to and from the Kingdom for the time being.

Exceptions to this shall be granted to Saudis returning home, and citizens of GCC countries who are in the Kingdom and want to return to their home countries provided that they left or entered the Kingdom using a national identity card.

Health authorities at entry points will verify which countries travelers visited before arriving in Saudi Arabia and apply all necessary precautionary measures.

Nearly 7 million Umrah pilgrims visit the Kingdom each year, the majority of whom arrive at airports in Jeddah and Madinah. (ANI)