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Latest Coronavirus Victim: Umrah Visits to Mecca
Muslim pilgrims wear masks at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on February 27, 2020. (Abdulgani Basheer/AFP via Getty Images)

Latest Coronavirus Victim: Umrah Visits to Mecca

After first case of corona is found in Baghdad, Saudi Arabia suspends entry of pilgrims amid spread of virus

As diagnosis of the first case of coronavirus was announced in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Saudi Arabia on February 27 suspended the entry of “umrah” pilgrims to the kingdom, according to a statement issued by the Saudi Foreign Ministry.

Umrah is the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that, in contrast to the hajj, can be undertaken at any time of the year.

The statement explained that the decision was a part of international efforts by governments and organizations, in particular the World Health Organization, to stop the spread of the virus. The decision, the statement said, was taken “to provide the utmost protection for the safety of citizens and residents, and whoever intends to come to the kingdom’s lands to perform umrah, or to visit the Prophet’s Mosque, or for the purpose of tourism.”

Suliman al-Ogaily, a member of the board of directors of the Saudi Society for Political Science, told The Media Line that the Saudis took these measures to protect pilgrims, as well as the Saudi people and residents in the kingdom, from infection.

“The two most important factors in the spreading of this epidemic are traveling and joining crowds of human gatherings,” al-Ogaily said. “These are temporary measures to prevent spread of this dangerous virus, which is exacerbated by the gathering of people and their movement from one place to another.”

He further clarified that the Saudi leadership regularly adheres to the recommendations of public health experts and the World Health Organization and would cooperate with international efforts “to achieve full control of the epidemic and its containment and eradication, God willing.”

Significant measures have been taken in the Arab region to halt the transmission of coronavirus, reducing international travel and trade.

On Thursday morning, the Iraqi Health Ministry revealed in a statement that the country had discovered its case of coronavirus: “a young man in Baghdad who had returned to Iraq from Iran, and was taken to a health institution in Baghdad for lab tests, which confirmed that he was infected with the virus; thereafter, the man was quarantined.”

Fadel Abu Raghef, an Iraqi analyst and security expert, told The Media Line that while the leadership could sugarcoat political and economic problems, it could not sweep the coronavirus epidemic under the rug, as the disease was extremely dangerous and Iraqi society was vulnerable to spread of the virus.

“Most people here don’t believe in quarantine. … There are cases in Iraq that were not disclosed and were covered up, to keep the cabinet [session] quiet today,” he claimed. Given the conservative and emotional nature of Iraqi society, Abu Raghef said, limiting the disease’s spread would be difficult, as it was in neighboring Iran. “Iran hid the disease until after the elections, and now the virus has spread there.”

Abu Raghef said “the high prices of anything related to fighting coronavirus” presented a further challenge, given that the Iraqi Health Ministry was underfunded and preparations were modest.

Iraq added two new countries – Kuwait and Bahrain – to the list of places from which the entry of travelers to Iraq was now banned, the health minister said. The list also includes China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and Italy.

Individuals who visited Iran were the source of several coronavirus infections in neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Pakistan. Iran reported 22 deaths from coronavirus and 141 people infected.

In Kuwait, the Health Ministry announced on Thursday that the number of people infected with coronavirus had risen to 43, all of whom came from Iran.

The United Arab Emirates was the first Gulf country to report coronavirus. On January 29, four members of a Chinese family that had arrived in the UAE for a vacation a week earlier from Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the outbreak, were diagnosed with the virus.

This was followed by cases in Bahrain, then Kuwait, and then Oman. Other states have yet to report any infections.

So far, the number of confirmed cases in Bahrain has reached eight. The Bahraini Health Ministry said in a statement that “the new cases are of two Bahraini citizens (a man and a woman) and four Saudi nationals, all of whom have arrived in the country after a visit to Iran.”

Rana Afifi, an executive producer at al-Ain News Network in Dubai, told The Media Line that at the onset of the coronavirus, the UAE announced eight cases of infection with the virus. Dubai, she notes, is a global hub for travelers from all over the world – “from China and Iran, too.”

Afifi said that that the UAE had suspended flights from all Chinese cities except Beijing.

“There is panic among people here; many wear face masks and the sales of cameras that detect the virus have increased,” she said, adding that tourism and industry had taken a big hit. In particular, “the exhibition and conference industry, which is considered a pillar of Dubai’s economy, was greatly affected by the absence of Chinese workers.”

In Amman, no cases of coronavirus have been reported. However, the government was taking precautionary measures. Sarah al-Nsour, a Jordanian pharmacist and medical supplier, told The Media Line that governmental-run AlBashir Hospital’s Epidemiology Department was fully prepared to receive any cases, but at other hospitals, the focus is on spreading awareness about the virus and how to avoid it.

“There are no specific arrangements to fight the disease as we don’t have any recorded cases yet, but everyone is being extra careful with hygiene,” al-Nsour said. “In the end, it’s a virus: We can treat the symptoms but there is no medical cure. Elderly people and children are especially vulnerable because their immune systems are weak.”

Aside from its direct health impact, the spread of the virus could have devastating consequences for the world’s economy in general, and the economies and financial markets in some Arab countries in particular. China, the epicenter of the outbreak, is the second-largest economy in the world after the United States and the main driver of trade and financial transactions in the world. And as the virus spreads, the global demand for oil could significantly weaken.

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