TEHRAN, IRAN - Saudi Arabia has banned citizens and residents from performing the voluntary Muslim Umrah pilgrimage in Mecca over fears about new virus.
The announcement came on the state-run Saudi Press Agency on Wednesday, quoting an unnamed Interior Ministry official announcing the ban.
It gave no time frame for how long the suspension will stand.
Last week, Saudi Arabia closed off the holiest sites in Islam to foreign pilgrims over the coronavirus. That disrupted travel for thousands of Muslims already headed to the kingdom and potentially affecting plans later this year for millions more ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan and the annual hajj pilgrimage.
Friday prayers in Iran have been canceled across all provincial capitals amid the country's growing coronavirus outbreak, state television said.
Friday is the main congregational day of prayer in Islam, and traditionally an important event for Iran's clerical rulers.
The report Wednesday comes as Tehran and other areas canceled Friday prayers last week over the outbreak.
Iran earlier announced that the new coronavirus has killed 92 people amid 2,922 confirmed cases across the Islamic Republic, the highest death toll in the world outside of China.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced the new figures at a news conference in Tehran, raising Iran's death toll from the new illness to higher than Italy's, where there has also been a serious spike in infections.
There are now over 3,140 cases of the new virus across the Mideast. Of those outside Iran in the region, most link back to the Islamic Republic.
The virus has sickened top leaders inside Iran's civilian government and Shiite theocracy. Iran stands alone in how the virus has affected its government, even compared to hard-hit China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 90,000 people and caused over 3,100 deaths.
Experts worry Iran may be underreporting the number of cases it has.
The virus has no wings to fly, Jahanpour said. We are the ones who transfer it to each other.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meanwhile acknowledged that the virus was in nearly all of Iran's 31 provinces while speaking at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
This disease is a widespread one, he said, according to a transcript. 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.
Meanwhile Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's Deputy Health Minister Abdel-Fattah Mashat was quoted on the state-linked news site Al-Yaum saying that groups of visitors to Mecca from inside the country would now also be barred from performing the pilgrimage, known as the umrah. The crowds typically are made up of foreign residents going as large groups. Individuals and families in the kingdom can still travel to Mecca.
Saudi Arabia last week closed off the holiest sites in Islam to foreign pilgrims over the coronavirus, disrupting travel for thousands of Muslims already headed to the kingdom and potentially affecting plans later this year for millions more ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan and the annual hajj pilgrimage.
Source: Voice of America