Saudi Arabia halts travel to Mecca, Medina amid coronavirus scare

WION Web Team New Delhi Feb 29, 2020, 10.28 AM(IST)

Muslim pilgrims walk out after the Friday prayer at the Grand mosque ahead of annual Haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca. Photograph:( Reuters )

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This is the first time that the Saudi Kindom has announced such a travel restriction which has caught the Muslims across the world off-guard. 

In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia will stop Gulf citizens from visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina amid coronavirus fears.

The kingdom suspended visas for the year-round Umrah pilgrimage yesterday. This is the first time that the Saudi Kindom has announced such a travel restriction which has caught the Muslims across the world off-guard. 

This new move will prevent citizens from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries from visiting Mecca and Medina -- the 2 holiest cities of Islam. Saudi Arabia itself is a member of the organisation and it's not clear if the decision will apply to its own citizens.

GCC citizens who are already in the country can visit the holy shrines if they do not present with coronavirus symptoms for 14 days.

The kingdom has not reported any positive cases of the virus so far but there has been a massive spike in West Asia especially in Iran.  GCC citizens can normally enter Saudi Arabia by producing their identity cards without passports. But the Kingdom has temporarily reversed this decision so as to ensure that travellers have not visited virus-hit countries.

Tourist visas to people from countries like China, South Korea, Japan and Italy have also been suspended. The focus now is on the Hajj Pilgrimage which falls in the month of July.

The kingdom released a statement saying precautionary measures were being reviewed and additional measures would be taken if necessary.