FILE - Muslim pilgrims pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, 2015 - Reuters
CAIRO – 27 February 2020: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday announced a temporary ban on entering the Kingdom for performing Umrah pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, in an effort to prevent the spread of new coronavirus, a statement by the foreign ministry read.
The decision also includes a ban on visiting the country to Prophet's Mosque in the western city of Medina and a temporary suspension of tourist visas from countries which Saudi health authority see as dangerous due to the spread of the coronavirus.
The deadly virus has so far killed almost 3,000 people and appeared in countries around Saudi Arabia, mainly in Iran.
The Saudi decision also temporarily bars Saudi citizens and citizens of the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) from moving to or from the kingdom using their national IDs. However, exceptions include Saudi citizens outside the kingdom who are willing to return in case they left the country by their national IDs and the GCC citizens inside the Kingdom, in case they need to leave Saudi Arabia.
The new 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 emergence of the coronavirus in the Kingdom and its spread,” the statement added.
Commenting on the decision, Awqaf Minister Mokhtar Gomaa said it goes in line with a religious rule which states that warding off harm takes precedence over attaining benefits, reported Egyptian state’s news agency (MENA).
In a statement on Thursday, Gomaa said the Saudi decision has its religious justification to protect people from the coronavirus.
He noted that the World Health Organization cautioned that crowded areas are more liable to the spread of the virus.