Saudi Arabia Suspends Umrah Travel Amid Coronavirus Outbreak Across the Middle East27 Feb 2020
On Wednesday, it was announced that Saudi Arabia has suspended travel for Umrah pilgrims entering the country to visit its holy sites. Officials are vague in answering on the longevity of this plan.
Every year, around 7 million Muslims come from across the world make the journey to Saudi Arabia to undertake the Umrah pilgrimage. However, due to concerns of the coronavirus spreading into the neighboring countries of Saudi Arabia, officials have decided to hault the entry of those pilgrims wishing to make their way into the country.
Saudi Arabia has not announced yet whether it has had any confirmed cases, but Saudi citizens in countries next-door to the Kingdom are amongst those infected with Covid-19. Six Saudi women in neighbouring Bahrain have been tested positive, whilst a Saudi man in Kuwait has also been quarantined. Both had arrived from Iran, where the country has now had over 250 cases and 26 deaths from the virus.
Travel agents are now in a panic as there remains still a lot of uncertainty as to how long Saudi Arabia will keep the ban in place. Statements have been hinting at a timeframe of days, giving officials enough time to implement scanning and quarantine facilities.
The Saudi government has also suspended visas for tourists from countries that are known to have had cases of the virus in a further effort to slowdown the speed of its spread.
There are future worries regarding the impact this will have on Hajj, which begins in late-July, and whether upcoming visitors for this will be affected at all. Saudi officials have stressed that these measures are only temporary. They have also said that containing the virus now will contribute to the safety of Hajj pilgrims in the summer. Islamic organizations have reiterated this sentiment, saying that the ban is in accordance with Sharia law as it is preserving the lives of pilgrims.
But these pilgrims remain in the dark on when they will be allowed into the country. It has been reported in Indonesia that hundreds of citizens flying to Saudi Arabia are now stranded in Jakarta Airport.
Across the Middle East, countries are now taking measures to try and fight the spread of Covid-19. The World Health Organization has now stated that the virus is spreading faster outside China for the first time. 2800 have now been killed by the virus globally, a further 80,000 infected across 40 countries.
Cases have soared in Europe over the past few weeks, with the virus exploding over Italy in a matter of days. The United States are also closely monitoring their own situation, as fears of the virus making its way into North America are affecting businesses and markets.
The rapid, global spreading of the coronavirus in the past few weeks, along with countries’ reactions to it, has been a reminder of how influential and all-encompassing a global health crisis can be, affecting events and institutions that many people can take for granted. The Tokyo Olympics this summer is one of those events under threat. Saudi Arabia isn’t the only country preparing for an uncertain future.