Saudi authorities have imposed a total lockdown on the holy cities. Residents will only be able to leave home to buy food and medicines. Non-residents will not be allowed to enter. The minor pilgrimage has been suspended; Hajj is in doubt. Hajj minister calls on the faithful around the world to postpone bookings.
Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Saudi Arabia has imposed a 24-hour curfew on the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah as part of efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The cities had already been under 15-hour curfews, and the stay-at-home order has now been extended around the clock. Like other places in the world, residents are only allowed out to buy food and for medical necessity.
So far, the kingdom has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (1,885) with 21 deaths and 328 people healed.
No one but local residents can enter Makkah and Madinah; no pilgrims are allowed.
In three other areas, the city of Dammam, and the governorates of Taif and al-Qatif, the curfew was advanced to 3 pm, starting today until further notice.
The latest restrictions come as tensions and uncertainty rise in the wake of the spreading novel coronavirus, which has not spared Islam’s two holiest sites as well as stopped, since 20 March, Friday prayers.
Should the crisis continue, the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah that every Muslim should do at least once in their lifetime could also be cancelled.
Every year millions of people from around the world flock to the holy cities. This year it was set for July and August. With the pandemic ravaging the world, the event might be cancelled or subjected to severe restrictions.
Amid the uncertainty, Saudi Arabia is asking Muslims planning to take part in the Hajj to delay booking.
Hajj Minister Mohammed Banten said the kingdom was concerned about the safety of pilgrims and urged people to "wait before concluding contracts".
Saudi authorities have already suspended Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, as a precaution to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.