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Saudi Arabia bans all pilgrimages to Mecca to fight virus spread

Saudi Arabia bans all pilgrimages to Mecca to fight virus spread
© Getty Images

Saudi Arabia banned all pilgrimages to Mecca to prevent spreading the coronavirus, the government announced Wednesday. 

The country’s decision would prevent citizens and other residents of the kingdom from making the pilgrimage, The Associated Press reported. The ban would expand Saudi Arabia’s restrictions previously announced last week on foreigners making trips to Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest sites in Islam.

This ban would affect both Sunni and Shiite Muslims, who visit and circle Mecca’s Grand Mosque, which Muslims pray toward five times a day. The crowd in front of the mosque was reportedly smaller than usual before the ban’s announcement from an unidentified interior ministry official, according to the AP.

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It was not clear how the government planned to enforce the ban, which it called “temporary” but did not mention an estimated end date. 

The ban would aim to “limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic and prevent its access to the Two Holy Mosques, which are witnessing a permanent and intense flow of human crowds, which makes the issue of securing these crowds of utmost importance,” the Saudi government said, according to the AP.

Millions of Muslims typically attend the annual hajj to Mecca scheduled this year for late July into early August, but there are other pilgrimages throughout the year known as umrah, which gathered 7.5 million foreigners in 2019. 

Iran also canceled its Friday prayers in major cities, as the country struggles to contain the virus. 

“This disease is a widespread one,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told his Cabinet, according to the AP. “It encompasses almost all of our provinces and is, in a sense, a global disease that many countries in the world have become infected with, and we must work together to tackle this problem as quickly as possible.”

Saudi Arabia has one recorded case of coronavirus, while Iran has 2,922 cases and 92 deaths.