The Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency on Wednesday that the kingdom had decided “to suspend Umrah temporarily for citizens and residents in the kingdom.”
They were also barred from “visits to the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina”, according to a Foreign Ministry tweet.
The aim is to “limit the spread of the coronavirus and prevent its access to the two holy mosques, which are witnessing permanent and intense crowds, which makes the issue of securing these crowds of utmost importance,” a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry said, according to Press TV.
A week earlier, Saudi authorities imposed a ban on overseas pilgrims visiting the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.
The move comes as many world countries are grappling with a growing coronavirus outbreak originating from China.
There are concerns that Saudi Arabia — which receives nearly 7 million Umrah pilgrims every year — is not being transparent about how badly it has been hit by the virus.
Saudi Arabia only confirmed its second case on Wednesday, claiming the victim — a Saudi national had returned from Iran via Bahrain.
Riyadh alleged that the Saudi citizen was accompanied by another person who was declared the kingdom’s first case of the coronavirus on Monday.
Riyadh’s last week decision to ban Umrah alone disrupted travel for thousands of Muslims already headed to the kingdom and potentially affects plans later this year for millions more ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan and the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The new coronavirus, recently named COVID-19, can cause various symptoms ranging from those of the common cold to more severe diseases such as pneumonia. Common signs include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and other respiratory complications.
The virus, which emerged in central China in late December last year, has so far claimed more than 3,000 lives worldwide.
More than 93,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide and the number of deaths from the virus, which is spreading in the Middle East, Europe and other parts of the world, has reached 3,110 globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Last week, WHO, which has already declared the outbreak an international health emergency, raised the global coronavirus alert level from high to "very high'', its top level of risk assessment.
In Iran, it first showed up in the north-central city of Qom — a pilgrimage destination. COVID-19 has killed 92 people and infected 2,922 others in Iran as of late Wednesday.