Travel to Mecca and Medina is simply cancelled this year by Saudi Arabia over fears that the coronavirus will spread. Millions of Muslims make the pilgrimage every year. Cancelling foreigners from travelling to the holiest sites in Islam is considered an extraordinary decision, and not one we have ever seen before, even during MERS, Ebola fears at Hajj, a SARS breakouts and alarm and the occasional stampede.
In fact more people have been killed at Hajj during a stampede that all of the people affected by coronavirus so far. The latest deadliest stampede killed more than 2000 people in 2015:
Saudi Arabia does not want an outbreak like Iran so the oil-rich monarchy cancelled Hajj last week. The center of the western East breakout is Iran in the Shia city of Qom where the faithful kiss and touch a shrine every year.
Watch Video of the shrine lick in Qom:
“Saudi Arabia renews its support for all international measures to limit the spread of this virus and urges its citizens to exercise caution before travelling to countries experiencing coronavirus outbreaks,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement announcing the decision.
“We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm.”
Previous epidemics during Hajj
Disease outbreaks have been a concern in the past and we have covered the SARS and MERS outbreaks as they spread, offering tips to stay out of harm’s way.
Hajj, the journey to Mecca and Medina is required of all Muslims once in their life, if they are able. Al Jazeera reported that in 632 pilgrims fought of malaria; then there was cholera in 1821 killing 20,000 pilgrims. Cholera again in 1865 killed 15,000 and then spread viciously around the world.
The virus that causes the illness named COVID-19 has infected more than 80,000 people globally, mainly in China. In the Middle East, the hardest hit nation is Israel.
Israel has clamped down on travel into Israel and people returning from European countries, China, Japan, are sent to self-isolate or quarantine. Events for the upcoming holiday of Purim are cancelled, like the annual parade in Holon.
In Bahrain, which confirmed 33 cases as of Thursday last week, the authorities stopped all flights to Iraq and Lebanon.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said there were no immediate plans to quarantine Iranian cities but acknowledged it may take “one, two or three weeks” to get control of the virus.
Related: Why Muslims don’t drink alcohol