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Saudi Arabia halts travel to Islam’s holiest site over virus

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia announced that it has halted travel to the Kaaba amid fears over the novel coronavirus. The Kaaba is located in the holy city of Mecca, where Muslims travel to for the annual hajj pilgrimage, which occurs in just a few months. The announcement comes as the Middle East has over 220 confirmed cases of the virus. The decision by Saudi Arabia stops foreigners from reaching the Kaaba, a structure in which the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims pray towards five times a day. Saudi also stated that travel has been suspended to another sacred location, Muhammad’s mosque in Medina.

As Iran struggles to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Saudi Arabia fears that the outbreak might spread into the country as it contains some of the most widely traveled to locations in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s preventative measures are reflective of the national fear over the epidemic, and the country has urged its citizens to exercise caution when traveling to countries experiencing outbreaks such as Iran, South Korea, Japan, and Italy. Disease outbreaks are a major concern when considering the hajj, which is required of all Muslims once in their life as pilgrims travel from all over the world.

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