The Saudi foreign ministry has announced that it will be suspending visas for pilgrims wishing to visit Mecca over coronavirus fears.
The announcement was made on Thursday. 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.
Pilgrimage to Mecca is the largest religious festival in the world, with millions of people attending, such a gathering could prove to be an easy way for the virus to reach every country in earth.
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”.
The virus has spread to countries outside China, including Iran which is a close neighbor of Saudi Arabia.
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.