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Saudi Arabia temporarily suspends all religious pilgrimages over coronavirus fears

In this 2014 photo, Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, the black cube at center, inside the Grand Mosque during the annual pilgrimage, known as the hajj, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca.
In this 2014 photo, Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba, the black cube at center, inside the Grand Mosque during the annual pilgrimage, known as the hajj, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca.Khalid Mohammed

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia temporarily halted religious visits that include stops in Mecca and Medina, which draw millions of people a year as the Islamic world’s holiest cities, to help prevent the spread of coronavirus into the country.

Tourism visa-holders from countries with reported coronavirus infections will also be denied entry, the Saudi embassy in Washington said in an emailed statement, without naming any countries. The steps are temporary and subject to continuous evaluation, according to the statement.

The government is acting to block the deadly virus as neighboring countries including Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates have flagged dozens of cases. No infections had been reported by Saudi Arabian authorities as of Wednesday.

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The kingdom is also suspending entry by citizens from Gulf States traveling under their national IDs, as well as travel by Saudis to the Gulf States. Saudis abroad who want to return or Gulf citizens in Saudi Arabia who wish to leave may do so, according to the statement.

Mecca, birthplace of the Prophet Mohammad, is home to Islam’s holiest shrine inside the Grand Mosque. Medina is where Islam’s founder is buried.

A picture taken early on July 16, 2015 from the Abraj al-Bait Towers, also known as the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower, shows Muslim worshipers praying at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, a day before the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The Grand Mosque, which contains Islam's holiest site the Kaaba, can now hold 1.85 million people AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo by - / AFP)        (Photo credit should read -/AFP via Getty Images)
A picture taken early on July 16, 2015 from the Abraj al-Bait Towers, also known as the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower, shows Muslim worshipers praying at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, a day before the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The Grand Mosque, which contains Islam's holiest site the Kaaba, can now hold 1.85 million people AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo credit should read -/AFP via Getty Images)-/AFP