Earlier this week, Riyadh introduced a ban on Saudi citizens, residents and foreigners hoping to visit Mecca and Medina for the Umrah pilgrimage.
Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of the year and is not considered compulsory. Pilgrims often visit the Prophet’s mosque, also known as Masjid al-Nabawi, before or after visiting the Great mosque in Mecca.
Riyadh reported its first case of the coronavirus on Monday. Local authorities said the patient was a Saudi national returning from Iran, which has reported the most deaths outside of China.
A health ministry spokesperson said Saudi Arabia was preparing 25 hospitals to handle any coronavirus cases that might be detected.
The kingdom, which hosts the two holiest sites of Islam, welcomes millions of Muslim visitors throughout the year with a peak for the Hajj pilgrimage.
Almost seven million people visit Mecca annually to perform Umrah. Prior to visiting Saudi Arabia, pilgrims are required to provide certificates of vaccinations in their visa applications.
It remains unclear how long the ban on Umrah pilgrimages will be implemented, but travel agencies told MEE that Saudi Arabia introduced the restrictions to prepare for the coronavirus.