Umrah attracts tens of thousands of devout Muslims from all over the globe each month (Photo Credit: Image by Konevi from Pixabay)
Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for pilgrims wishing to visit Mecca over coronavirus fears, the foreign ministry said. The government is "suspending entry to the Kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet's Mosque temporarily", the foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year.
Umrah attracts tens of thousands of devout Muslims from all over the globe each month.
The foreign ministry said it was also suspending visas for tourists visiting from countries where the new virus is a "danger".
Even as the number of fresh cases declines at the epicentre of the disease in China, there has been a sudden increase in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, where 19 people have succumbed to the disease -- officially known as COVID-19. The Gulf states of Kuwait and Bahrain have also announced additional cases this week.
Meanwhile, Iranian authorities on Wednesday announced domestic travel restrictions for people with confirmed or suspected cases of the novel coronavirus. "Instead of quarantining cities, we are going to implement movement restrictions for those suspected of infection or those infected," Health Minister Saeed Namaki said at a news conference.
Namaki also announced curbs on access to several Shiite holy sites, including Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad and the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom. According to official figures, the virus has since killed 19 people in Iran and another 140 people have been infected.