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Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in last year's hajj -- one of the five pillars of Islam.

Saudi Arabia, which so far has reported no cases of virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries. Saudi Arabia on Thursday (Feb 27) suspended arrivals by foreigners for the Umrah pilgrimage and tourists from two dozen countries where the new coronavirus has spread.

The holy fasting month of Ramadan begins in late April, when visits by Muslim pilgrims accelerate for Umrah. 

Meanwhile, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation said it supports Saudi Arabia’s actions to protect pilgrims and visitors from coronavirus.

The Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa also said Saudi Arabia’s decision to temporarily suspend Umrah visas over the coronavirus outbreak was in accordance with Sharia law.

The suspension of Umrah visas due to the coronavirus outbreak preserves the lives of pilgrims, it said.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said the suspensions were temporary but provided no timeframe. Entry is also suspended for visits to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

“Protecting the pilgrims... and the sacred sites from the arrival of this disease is very important,” Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali said after government officials met to discuss preventative measures.

“Saudi Arabia feels a sense of responsibility, therefore we took these temporary decisions which will constantly be reviewed.”
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