RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims to wait for more clarity on the coronavirus pandemic before planning any travel for pilgrimage, the minister for Hajj and Umrah told Al-Ekhbariya TV on Tuesday.
“We’ve asked the world not to rush with regards to Hajj groups until the path of the epidemic becomes clear, keeping in mind the safety of pilgrims and public health as a priority,”Dr. Muhammad Salih bin Taher Banten said.
“We have coordinated with the Ministry of Health an inspection tour of hotels that were used for health isolation to ensure that all services and care are provided to pilgrims,” he added.
The largest annual gathering of Muslims is scheduled to begin in late July, but the coronavirus outbreak and Saudi Arabia’s lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus has raised questions about whether it can go ahead.
The Kingdom has already suspended Umrah pilgrimage until further notice, halted all international passenger flights indefinitely and last week blocked entry and exit to several cities, including Makkah and Madinah.
There have been 10 deaths reported among 1,563 cases of coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, which has infected some 800,000 people globally and killed more than 40,000.
The General Directorate of Passports in Saudi Arabia has said Umrah pilgrims who have exceeded their visa period can apply for an ‘exemption’ to avoid penalties. A statement released by the directorate in coordination with the Ministry of Hajj said, pilgrims who exceeded their Umrah visa can submit an exemption request to the ministry’s website.
The request includes an exemption from the legal implications and financial penalties involved in delaying their departure. The form should be submitted no later than Saturday, March 28.
The statement added that the relevant authorities will arrange return flights for the pilgrims. The authorities will inform the pilgrims of the details and timings of their flights via text to their registered phone numbers.
Curfew in Jeddah
Meanwhile, the international news agency ANI has mentioned referring Sputnik that Saudi Arabia has imposed a curfew in the western Jeddah province starting from Sunday at 15:00 local time (12:00 PM GMT) due to spread of COVID-19, the Interior Ministry said.
“Curfew in Jeddah Governorate to be effective from 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, and suspension of entry into and exit from it,” the interior ministry said, as quoted by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
SPA did not provide additional details on curfew hours. The provincial capital, Jeddah, is the second-largest city of the country and has a population of nearly four million people. In a bid to stop the spread of the virus, Saudi Arabia has already banned domestic and international flights and prohibited citizens from attending workplaces until further notice. The Saudi Health Ministry has so far confirmed 1,203 coronavirus cases in the country.
157 new cases
Saudi Ministry of
Health announced 157 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the total
number of cases in the Kingdom to 1,720. Of the new cases reported, 78 were
recorded in Madinah, 55 in Makkah and the rest in Riyadh, Qtaif, Jeddah, Hufof,
Tabuk, Taif and Al-Henakiyah.
The ministry also said that a total of 264 patients had recovered from the virus so far. The ministry repeated its call for all citizens and residents to adhere to the curfew and not to leave their houses unless there was an essential need to.
The highest number of new cases are in Riyadh (33), followed by Jeddah (29), Makkah (20), Qatif (7), Alkhobar (4), Madinah (3), Dammam (3), Hofuf (2), Jazan (2) and Dhahran (2). Abha, Khamis Mushait, Khafji, Ras Tanura and Al-Badayea each reported one case.
31 patients are in critical condition, he added, and there were two more virus-related deaths in Madinah, bringing the total number of fatalities in the Kingdom to 10. An additional 50 people have been given the all-clear, bringing the total number of recoveries to 165.
Al-Aly said that of the 22,000 people who have been quarantined in the Kingdom, some in hospitals and some in self-isolation, 50 percent have now completed the mandatory 14-day isolation.