Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended foreigners’ entry for the Umrah pilgrimage, and tourism from countries where the new coronavirus has spread, as a growing number of cases outside China deepened fears of a pandemic.
The kingdom, which hosts the two most sacred sites of Islam in Maakah and Madinah, welcomes millions of Muslim visitors throughout the year with a peak for the hajj pilgrimage.
It introduced a new tourism visa last October for 49 countries.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the suspensions were temporary but provided no timeframe for their expiry.
It was unclear if the hajj pilgrimage, which is scheduled to begin in late July, would be impacted.
Entry is also suspended for visits to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.
Saudi Arabia has had no cases of the coronavirus but it has been spreading in some neighbouring countries.
The Saudi government banned Umrah, due to Coronavirus, for those travelling from the following countries:
China, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Philippines, Singapore, India, Syria, Yemen, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Somalia and Vietnam.
The ban does not apply to those coming with Umrah or tourist visas from Non-High Risk countries.
As for applying for new visas, they have stopped that, as far as we know.
But anyone with existing visas, unless explicitly mentioned from the listed countries, is allowed as per the memorandum. Here is the official memorandum to Saudi Immigration Services:
Emirates airline said on Thursday it would no longer carry to Saudi Arabia passengers with Umrah pilgrimage visas or tourists from nearly two dozen countries until further notice, in compliance with the Saudi government directive.
Holders of Saudi tourist visas travelling from China, Japan, Italy, Iran, India, Pakistan and a number of other countries will be barred from boarding Emirates flights with Saudi Arabia as the final destination, the airline said on its website.
‘Very low’ risk
Saudi Arabia’s top tourism official said this week 400,000 tourist visas had been issued since their launch in October and the country aims to attract 100 million annual visits in 2030.
The number of new coronavirus infections inside China – the source of the outbreak – was for the first time overtaken by new cases elsewhere on Wednesday, with Italy and Iran emerging as epicentres of the rapidly spreading illness.
Asia reported hundreds of new cases, Brazil confirmed Latin America’s first infection and the new strain of the virus – COVID-19 – was also detected for the first time in Pakistan, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Romania, Georgia and Algeria.
US health authorities, managing 59 cases – mostly Americans repatriated from a cruise ship in Japan – have said a global pandemic is likely.
In a television address, US President Donald Trump told Americans on Wednesday that the risk remained “very low”, and placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the US response.
Source: Middle East Eye