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Saudi Arabia asks travellers arriving from Lebanon, Egypt to self-quarantine

Saudi Arabia has taken drastic measures to halt the spread of coronavirus [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 8 March, 2020

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Saudi Arabia asked people returning from Lebanon, South Korea, Egypt and Italy to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has asked travellers arriving from certain countries to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in the kingdom amid the continued spread of coronavirus in the region.

Saudi's health ministry requested the period of isolation from people who travelled to Lebanon, Egypt, Italy or South Korea, Reuters reported.

The kingdom also called on anyone who had visited any of the four countries experiencing symptoms to contact the authorities. 

The total number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia numbered at seven on Saturday.

The kingdom reported two new cases. One was a woman who came from Iran via Bahrain and another woman who came from Iraq via the United Arab Emirates, Reuters reported.

Saudi Arabia - a pilgrimage hotspot- has taken drastic measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Saudi authorities this week suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage, during which worshippers circle the Kaaba seven times, and also announced the temporary closure of the area around the cube structure.

Saudi Arabia reopened Saturday the area around the sacred Kaaba in Mecca's Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site, reversing one of a series of measures introduced to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

King Salman "allowed for the opening of the Mataf (where people circle the Kaaba) for non-umrah performers" starting on Saturday at dawn, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

Authorities had also emptied the Grand Mosque for sterilisation on Thursday.

Read more: Coronavirus apocalypse: Islam's holiest site Mecca 'completely deserted'

The unprecedented suspension of the umrah has raised uncertainty over the annual hajj pilgrimage, scheduled for the end of July.

Authorities have said prayers will be allowed at the Prophet's Mosque in Medina and in Mecca's Grand Mosque while the umrah is suspended, apart from during nighttime cleaning and sterilisation.

The suspension has left thousands of Muslim pilgrims in limbo.

Around two-thirds of the 18.3 million umrah participants in 2018 were citizens and residents of the kingdom, according to government statistics. 

Additional measures 

On Saturday, SPA said entry into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain would be "temporarily" restricted to three airports in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

Only commercial trucks will be allowed to cross by land, it added.

The newly established ministry of sports said it would "suspend public attendance" at all sports events starting Saturday, reflecting calls across the Gulf to cancel mass gatherings.

Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world in 2019 to take part in the hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.

The event is a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites, making attendees vulnerable to contagion.

Read more: A tale of two outbreaks: How Gulf countries succeeded where Iran failed on containing coronavirus

Already reeling from slumping oil prices, the Saudi kingdom risks losing billions of dollars annually from religious tourism as it tightens access to the sites. 

With the number of coronavirus cases in the Gulf region now more than 200, neighbouring Kuwait also announced additional precautionary measures.

It said it would suspend all flights to and from Bangladesh, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt for a week.

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