Saudi Arabia has suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage over fears that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) could spread to Islam’s holiest cities. The Gulf state has decided “to suspend umrah temporarily for citizens and residents in the kingdom”, the interior ministry said Wednesday in a statement.
The aim is to “limit the spread of the coronavirus and prevent its access to the Two Holy Mosques, which are witnessing permanent and intense crowds, which makes the issue of securing these crowds of utmost importance,” a spokesman said. The umrah, which can be undertaken at any time of the year, draws millions of Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia every year.
Saudi Arabia on Monday confirmed its first case of new coronavirus after one its citizens who had returned from Iran tested positive.