Saudi Arabia made the extraordinary decision on Thursday to halt travel to Mecca, one of Islam's holiest sites. The reason behind this is that it's simply too risky amid the coronavirus outbreak.
It's just months ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and with over 220 confirmed casesof the coronavirus already broken out in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is taking no risks.
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High level of concern
Saudi Arabia's decision blocks all foreigners from reaching the holy city of Mecca and the Kaaba, the dark cube-shaped structure that the billions of Muslims around the world pray to five times a day.
Saudi Arabia on Thursday halted travel to the holiest sites in Islam over coronavirus fears just months ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, as the Middle East recorded more than 220 confirmed cases. https://t.co/r7Z5xsVz6F
— Al Jazeera News (@AJENews) February 27, 2020
Travel to Prophet Muhammed's mosque in Medina has also been suspended.
These decisions go to show the high level of concern that the coronavirus could potentially reach oil-rich Saudi Arabia. The monarchy takes great pride in protecting Islam's holy sites.
So far, the holy Shia city of Qom in Iran has been the area in the Middle East that has recorded the most number of coronavirus infections. The faithful there reach down to kiss and touch a shrine in Qom. A sure method for spreading and catching any disease or virus.
"Saudi Arabia renews its support for all international measures to limit the spread of this virus and urges its citizens to exercise caution before traveling to countries experiencing coronavirus outbreaks," the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.
"We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm," mentioned the Saudi foreign ministry.
Mecca and Medina will be off-limits to foreigners to prevent an outbreak in the kingdom https://t.co/NjKytGf7fj— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) February 27, 2020
The coronavirus in the Middle East
The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, broke out from Wuhan in Hubei province in China in December 2019 and has now infected over 80,000 worldwide.
The Middle Eastern country that has been the hardest hit by the virus is Iran, with 139 confirmed cases, and 19 deaths. There are worries that Iran is under-reporting its coronavirus cases.
Bahrain has confirmed 33 cases as of Thursday, where flights to and from Iraq and Lebanon have now been halted by the authorities. It also banned flights to and from Dubai and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates for 48 hours.
me and my family were supposed to go from 3rd-13th April but it's looking very unlikely now :/ https://t.co/VAQBgRRvl3— Saif (@SaifQuadri) February 27, 2020