Saudi Arabia imposes a temporary ban on entries for the Umrah pilgrimage and tourism from countries over coronavirus fears.
The country hosts the two holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina welcoming millions of Muslim visitors every year with a peak for the hajj pilgrimage. It just introduced a new tourism visa last October for 49 countries.
The ministry of foreign affairs stated that the suspensions were temporary but provided no timeframe for their expiry. It was unclear if the hajj pilgrimage, which is scheduled to begin in late July, would be impacted.
Entry is also suspended for visits to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.
Saudi Arabia has not reported any confirmed cases of the coronavirus but seven Saudi citizens who traveled to Iran were among the cases reported in neighboring Kuwait and Bahrain, where dozens of infections have been confirmed.
The Saudi health ministry said it was coordinating with the authorities in those countries to treat the infected Saudis. At least 139 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Iran, including the country’s deputy health minister. The first cases were traced to the Shia holy city of Qom.
Saudi Arabia’s top tourism official said this week 400,000 tourist visas had been issued since their launch in October and the country aims to attract 100 million annual visits in 2030.
The number of new coronavirus infections inside China, the source of the outbreak was for the first time overtaken by new cases elsewhere on Wednesday, with Italy and Iran emerging as epicenters of the rapidly spreading illness.