Thursday February 27, 2020
Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the holy Kaaba in Mecca. (File photo: Reuters)
Saudi Arabia temporarily suspended entry for individuals seeking to perform Umrah pilgrimage in Mecca or visiting the Prophet's Mosque in Madina, as well as tourists traveling from countries where the coronavirus poses a risk as determined by the Kingdom’s health authorities.
The new precautions are “based on the recommendations of the competent health authorities to apply the highest precautionary standards and take proactive preventive measures to prevent the emergence of the coronavirus in the Kingdom and its spread,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Twitter.
These measures come at a time when has been a sharp increase in the number of cases reported in the Middle East, where most of the individuals infected had traveled from Iran which has a reported death toll standing at 19, the highest outside China.
This pushed several countries to suspend flights and most of its neighbors to close their borders. Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon, Iraq, and the UAE have all reported coronavirus cases who had traveled to Iran recently.
Exceptions to the ban
The Minister of Health Tawfiq al-Rabiah confirmed on Wednesday that there were no coronavirus cases detected in the Kingdom so far.
Saudi Arabia is also suspending the use of the national identity card by Saudi national and citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to travel to and from the Kingdom.
However, there are exceptions: Saudis who are abroad and wish to return home if their exit from the Kingdom was with the national identity card, and citizens of the GCC countries currently inside the Kingdom who wish to return to their countries if their entry was with the national identity card.
This allows the authorities at entry points to “verify from which countries visitors came before their arrival to the Kingdom and apply health precautions to deal with those coming from those countries.”
“The Kingdom affirms that these procedures are temporary, and are subject to continuous evaluation by the authorities,” the ministry said.