Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia bars foreigners from holy sites

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It’s unclear if Hajj, which is due to begin in late July, will be affected, reports the BBC.

The country has also barred visitors from countries where the new coronavirus has spread.

Saudi Arabia has no confirmed cases of the disease.

The Kingdom hosts the two holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina.

The country welcomes millions of Muslim visitors throughout the year – with a peak for the Hajj pilgrimage, due to begin this year in July.

Unlike the Hajj, the “Umrah” can take place at any time of the year – but those journeys have now been stopped for foreigners. Entry is also suspended for visits to Medina.

Mecca, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, is home to Islam’s holiest shrine. Medina is where he is buried.

The ministry of foreign affairs said the suspensions were temporary – but did not say when they would end.

Non-religious tourists from countries with reported coronavirus infections will also be denied entry officials said, but without specifying which countries.

Saudi Arabia said this week that 400,000 tourist visas had been issued since October.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases in Italy has jumped to 400, amid international efforts to contain the spread of the deadly outbreak.

The rise in Italy, the main focus of infection in Europe, represents a 25% surge in 24 hours.

Several European countries announced new cases traced to Italy.

Also on Wednesday, the World Health Organization said that for the first time the virus was spreading faster outside China, where it originated.

Globally, more than 80,000 people in about 40 countries have been infected with the new coronavirus, which emerged in December. The vast majority remain in China.

The latest round-up…

*A Japanese woman has tested positive for the virus – again. She had earlier contracted it, recovered and was discharged from hospital

*Australia has extended a travel ban on foreigners arriving from mainland China

*Romania has confirmed its first case of coronavirus. The patient had been in contact with an Italian citizen

*And it’s “not impossible” that this year’s Olympics – set to take place in Japan this July – could be postponed

*South Korea has postponed joint military drills with the US, as soldiers from both countries have come down with the virus

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