Saudi Arabia urges Muslims to defer hajj plans over coronavirus

Saudi Arabia urges Muslims to defer hajj plans over coronavirus

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A senior Saudi official urged the more than 1 million Muslims intending to travel to Islam’s holiest sites to perform the hajj to delay making plans this year due to the new coronavirus pandemic, according to reports Wednesday, in comments that suggested the pilgrimage could be cancelled.

In February, the kingdom took the extraordinary decision to close off the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to foreigners over the virus, a step which wasn’t taken even during the 1918 flu epidemic that killed tens of millions worldwide.

Restrictions have tightened in the kingdom as it grapples with over 1,500 confirmed cases of the new virus. The kingdom has reported 10 deaths so far. The Middle East has more than 71,000 confirmed cases of the virus, most of those in Iran, and over 3,300 deaths.

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