By Temitope Akintoye,
The Saudi Arabian government has announced cancellation of the annual muslim religious pilgrimage, Hajj, which all moslem devouts are expected to make at least once in their life time, as well as all tourist visits to the country, and explained that its decision was in order to curb spread of the coronavirus into its borders and assure safety of citizens and existing residents.
It stated that though there had, so far, been no identified case of corona virus in the country, emerging cases in four neighbouring countries of Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and United Arab Emirates (UAE) raised concerns and necessitated increase in security measures to prevent possibility of the virus infection being brought into the country.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry recalled that Kuwait and Bahrain recorded more cases on Thursday of people who had been in Iran, bringing their totals to 43 and 33 respectively and that Oman had diagnosed four cases, as well as the UAE which reported 13 cases.
According to the Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Faisal Al Saud, emergence of new cases of infection in the other four gulf-arab states were markers notifying Saudi Arabia of need for drastic measures to curb possible spread of coronavirus into the country, adding that the first natural step is to stop people who could be possible carriers of the virus from entering the country.
Faisal Al Saud, who confirmed the suspension on Thursday, in the country, explained that official figures had placed number of those who performed minor pilgrimage in 2019 at over eight million people from countries around the world, and that an expected number of about two million pilgrims were expected in July for the week-long Hajj, stating that such large gatherings were ill-advised in light of the corona virus pandemic.
He hinted at possibility of more announcements in the future and explained that Saudi Arabia’s monarch, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was responsive to the peculiar threat of coronavirus infection despite expected fiscal losses due to loss of revenue from tourism and the yearly Umrah pilgrimage, and stated that the lives of citizens and residents were more important to the leadership than opportunity for financial gains.
“It has been decided that there shall be, with immediate effect, total suspension of the acceptance of travellers into our country for Hajj purposes or for tourism, especially from countries which have recorded cases of Coronavirus infections,”
“The suspension is indefinite, our health autorities will do due diligence in determining the extent to which, and wherefrom the outbreak constitutes a danger to lives and health of anyone who is pressently within our borders”.
However, the minister, who did not list specific countries to be affected by the travel restrictions, called for calm among the people and cooperation of intended travelers into Saudi Arabia, saying that the measures, though stringent, were necessary in curbing the menace of coronavirus.
The Guild gathered that the country had also suspended visits to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.