Saudis Bar All Foreigners from Holy Sites over Coronavirus
Saudi Arabia has closed off Mecca, as well as Mohammed’s Mosque in Medina, to all foreigners, and is barring entry to non-Saudi tourists arriving in the country from areas particularly hard hit by coronavirus. The closures were announced on Thursday. The kingdom has yet to report any confirmed cases of illness but is known to be zealous in its efforts to protect Islam’s two top holy cities, where pilgrims often crowd together in close quarters. No timeframes were mentioned. The peak season for pilgrims is scheduled for July with the hajj, although pious Muslims arrive all year round for pilgrimages known as the umrah. Countries bordering Saudi Arabia have reported cases of coronavirus, with most instances being traced to Iran, which, as of Thursday at midday, was reporting the highest death toll – 26 – of any nation outside China, where the outbreak began. Iran also has a particularly high death rate of about 10% in light of the 254 cases it is reporting, with the death rates in other countries being about 2%. Iranian authorities say they are canceling mass Friday prayers in some cities in an effort to contain the outbreak, although there are no plans for city-wide quarantines, as has been the policy for hard-hit locales in China.