Saudi Arabia Suspends Sacred Pilgrimages To Mecca Amid Coronavirus Fears

Saudi Arabia has halted travel to the holiest sites in Islam over fears about a viral epidemic just months ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage, a move that came as the Mideast has over 220 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The extraordinary decision by Saudi Arabia stops foreigners from reaching the holy city of Mecca and the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure the world's 1.8 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day.

Muslim pilgrims attend Friday prayer in the city of Mecca in 2006. Image: Getty.

The decision also affected travel to Prophet Mohammed's mosque in Medina.

Authorities also suspended entry to the kingdom to those with tourist visas from nations affected by the new virus.

The decision showed the worry about the outbreak potentially spreading into Saudi Arabia, whose oil-rich monarchy stakes its legitimacy on protecting Islam's holy sites

The travel ban has been issued just months ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage. Image: Getty.

The epicentre in the Mideast's most-affected country, Iran, appears to be in the holy Shi'Ite city of Qom, where the faithful in reverence reach out to kiss and touch a famous shrine.

Iran now has the highest death toll from the virus outside of China, where the outbreak began.

Aerial view as Muslims pray at dusk around the Kaaba, Islam's most sacred sanctuary and pilgrimage shrine. Image: Getty.

There have been no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Saudi Arabia amid the outbreak.

Since it emerged in December in central China, the new coronavirus has sickened 82,000 people globally, with more than 2700 deaths.



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