Saudi Arabia suspends entry for Umrah pilgrimage over coronavirus fears

Pilgrims from different countries arriving in Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Saudi Arabia suspends entry for Umrah pilgrimage over coronavirus fears

  • Restrictions are temporary and will be continuously reviewed by the health authorities
  • Nearly 7 million Umrah pilgrims visit the Kingdom each year

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has placed a temporary ban on Umrah pilgrims in an attempt to ensure public safety by preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Most foreign pilgrims often visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah before or after the completion of their religious duties in Makkah, this has also been halted.

It is one of a number of precautionary restrictions announced early on Thursday as health authorities in the Kingdom closely monitor the spread of the virus. Tourist-visa holders from countries judged to pose a particularly high risk of spreading the virus will also be denied entry.

In addition, Saudi nationals and citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council nations will not be able to use a national identity card to travel to and from the Kingdom for the time being. Exceptions to this shall be granted to Saudis returning home, and citizens of GCC countries who are in the Kingdom and want to return to their home countries, provided that they left or entered the Kingdom using a national identity card.

Health authorities at entry points will verify which countries travelers visited before arriving in Saudi Arabia and apply all necessary precautionary measures.

Saudi officials stressed that the restrictions are temporary and will be continuously reviewed by the health authorities. They reiterated the Kingdom’s support for and implementation of international efforts to limit the spread of the virus, and the Foreign Ministry urged citizens not to travel to the countries worst affected by the coronavirus.

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Nearly 7 million Umrah pilgrims visit the Kingdom each year, the majority of whom arrive at airports in Jeddah and Madinah.

Earlier, it emerged that seven Saudis are among the latest coronavirus cases in Bahrain and Kuwait. The Bahraini Ministry of Health on Wednesday said six Saudi women has tested positive for the virus.

They had arrived at Bahrain International Airport on a flight from Iran. The total number of confirmed cases in the country stands at 26. Studies at schools and universities have been suspended for two weeks in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.

Kuwait announced the first case of a Saudi citizen infected by the virus. The man, who had arrived in the country from the Iranian city of Mashhad, has been placed in quarantine for 14 days. There have been 26 confirmed cases of the virus to date in Kuwait.

The Saudi Ministry of Health has been providing neighboring Arab countries with advice and guidelines for controlling infectious diseases such as the coronavirus and dealing with health emergencies.

Dr. Hani bin Abdul Aziz Jokhdar, the deputy minister of public health, said that the guidelines were based on Saudi Arabia’s experience of protecting the health and well-being of pilgrims during Hajj season.

He led the Kingdom’s delegation at a meeting of the Executive Office of the Council of Arab Ministers for Health on Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.


Minneapolis braces for fourth night of riots and arson 

Updated 7 min 57 sec ago

Minneapolis braces for fourth night of riots and arson 

  • Unrest follows police killing of George Floyd
  • FBI and US Justice Department investigating death  

CHICAGO: Minneapolis exploded into riots and arson this week after an African-American suspected of handling counterfeit money was killed on Monday during his arrest by two city police officers.

Videos on social media showed an officer placing his knee on George Floyd’s neck as he was handcuffed and being restrained on the street by the kerb. The 46-year-old said that he could not breathe, but police insisted that Floyd was “resisting arrest” and had to be forcibly restrained.

Floyd was pronounced dead at the scene and his family immediately called for an independent investigation, reflecting a growing number of incidents of police brutality against African-Americans in the US.

His family turned to civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who said the family’s first concern was to seek an autopsy independent of the police because of a lack of trust in law enforcement and to give their deceased family member a proper funeral.

“Is it two justice systems in America?” Crump said as he addressed the media. “One for black America and one for white America? We can’t have that. We have to have equal justice for the United States of America and that’s what I think the protesters are crying out for.”

Protests spread across the country and turned violent as arson destroyed property, including the police station where the police officers were assigned.

President Donald Trump denounced the rioters as “thugs” and warned that he might send in the military “to take control.” 

Minneapolis Police handed the investigation into Floyd’s death to the FBI and US Justice Department on Thursday night.

“On Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 p.m., officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress.  Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence,” according to the police department’s account of what happened on May 25.

“Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”

Officials from the FBI and US Justice Department promised that the probe would be “robust and meticulous.”

“The Department of Justice has made the investigation a top priority and has assigned experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the matter,” US Attorney Erica MacDonald and FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge Rainer Drolshagen said in a joint statement.

“The Federal investigation will determine whether the actions by the involved former Minneapolis Police Department officers violated federal law. It is a violation of federal law for an individual acting under color of law to willfully deprive another person of any right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

’Anger and sadness’

The media’s role in the protests that followed Floyd’s came sharply into focus when, early on Friday, CNN’s Omar Jimenez was arrested along with his TV crew.

Minneapolis had deployed police officers in the 3rd Precinct near the burned-down police station, in anticipation of another day of riots and arson. They were trying to clear the area when they asked Jimenez to leave.

Jimenez told police as he prepared to do a live report: “We are getting out of your way.” 

But the journalist began his report instead of leaving, prompting police to say he was under arrest.

CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota, who looked on as her colleague was being arrested, told viewers: “If you are just tuning in you are watching our correspondent Omar Jimenez being arrested by state police in Minnesota. We are not sure why our correspondent is being arrested.”

The camera crew was arrested after refusing to leave and trying to continue the live CNN report.

The city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, urged for calm and restraint following the violence.

“What we have seen over the last two days and the emotion ridden conflict over last night is the result of so much built up anger and sadness,” he tweeted. “Anger and sadness that has been ingrained in our black community not just because of five minutes of horror, but four hundred years. If you are feeling that sadness and that anger it is not only understandable it is right. It is the reflection of the truth of what our black community has lived.”

Frey urged “our non-black communities” to understand the rage from African- American citizens around the US and not just in Minneapolis.

The Washington D.C-based US Council of Muslim Organizations urged Muslims across the country to pray for Floyd’s family and condemned the officers’ conduct.  

“Minneapolis police officers marked Memorial Day by suffocating an utterly subdued black man named George Floyd to death as he pleaded with his last stifled words for the right to breathe. They snuffed out the light of his life with a knee on his neck, collapsing his trachea. They killed him in broad daylight. They killed him over a slow seven minutes. They killed him while contemptuously mocking the helpless bystanders pleading for mercy, for humanity, for George Floyd’s expiring life. They killed him even after Floyd had died by continuing to kneel on his limp, lifeless body for another two minutes.”