Pictures show Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque being sterilised after the country took the ‘unprecedented’ step of banning foreign pilgrims from entering months before the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Sanitation workers collected prayer mats as they cleaned the area outside Islam’s holiest shrine the Kaaba and Muslim worshippers were seen wearing protective masks after the country announced the ban on Wednesday.
The news is bound to be a blow for many devout Muslims hoping to complete the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, with 2.5 million pilgrims travelling from around the world last year to take part in the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Saudi Arabia is yet to report a case of the deadly illness, but the news came after hundreds of cases were confirmed around the Middle East, with 338 people currently testing positive in Iran, 43 in Kuwait and 34 in Bahrain.
Authorities in Riyadh said the ban was temporary, but did not specify how long it may last.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement ‘the kingdom’s government has decided to [suspend] entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the prophet’s mosque temporarily’.
It added that tourist visas would be suspended ‘for those coming from countries in which the spread of the new coronavirus is a danger’ and advised Saudi citizens not to travel to place where the disease was rapidly spreading.
Ghanem Nuseibeh, the founder of the London-based risk consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates, told Agence France-Presse the ‘move by Saudi Arabia is unprecedented’.
He added: ‘The concern for Saudi authorities would be Ramadan, which starts at the end of April, and hajj afterwards, should the coronavirus become a pandemic.’
It comes as a man becomes the first British person to die of the coronavirus, as the number of cases in the country hits 20.
England’s chief medical officer has claimed time is running out before the virus starts to spread in the UK as he warned of prolonged school closures and cancelled sporting events.
Tokyo Disneyland and a number of other theme parks in Japan are set to shut as the country battles the outbreak.
However, Chinese authorities have reported another sharp decrease in the number of infected with Covid-19 offering hope as it continues to spread elsewhere.
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