Saudi Arabia suspends entry for Umrah pilgrims


Expats exempted from the embargo imposed

Tourists and Umrah pilgrims from Bangladesh, among dozens of countries, will not be able to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Saudi foreign ministry issued a statement in this regard on Thursday.

“Suspending entry to the Kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque temporarily,” the foreign ministry of Saudi Arabia tweeted.

The foreign ministry said it was also suspending visas for tourists visiting from countries where the new virus is a “danger.”

The step comes ahead of Ramadan, which begins in late April this year, when visits by Muslims to the kingdom accelerate for Umrah. More than 7.5 million people performed the minor pilgrimage in the birthplace of Islam throughout 2019, reports Reuters citing official figures.

Some 2 million pilgrims are expected in late July for the week-long Hajj, the world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims.

People return from airport

People from all over Bangladesh came to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport Thursday morning to catch flights to Saudi Arabia, but had to return home.

However, Bangladeshi workers who want to go to Saudi Arabia for employment purposes would face no problem entering the country.

Sabera Akhter, deputy secretary (Biman) of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism told Dhaka tribune: “Employees and workers have no problem in going to Saudi Arabia. Some even went today [yesterday].

#Statement | Proactive Preventive Measures to Prevent the Arrival of the New Coronavirus (#COVID19) to the Kingdom

“We came to know about Saudi [Arabia]’s decision at 11am. In the meantime, passengers with tourist and Umrah visas came to the airport. For this reason, we could not notify the passengers. [There is] nothing left to do but apologize” she said.

Although there are no reports of coronavirus in Bangladesh, the country received a notification mail from the kingdom which was sent to Indonesia where around 150,000 to 200,000 pilgrims could be affected.

Tahera Khandakar, general manager (public relations) of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, said: “Our passengers headed for Saudi [Arabia] who purchased [flight] tickets for Thursday, Friday and Saturday will be notified via calls, texts and other means so that they do not come to the airport.

“Passengers with visas can use this ticket when the embargo is withdrawn,” she said.

The decision, regarding the fair price for refunds, is yet to be taken, she said.

Those having visas for Italy, Hong Kong, China and Iran, will not be able to enter Saudi Arabia until further notice, she added.

Tourists from countries posing a particularly high risk of spreading coronavirus will also be denied entry.

For the time being, Saudis and citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council nations would not be able to use a national identity card to travel to and from KSA. But, Saudis returning home and GCC citizens willing to go back to their home countries are an exception to this rule.

Coronavirus, which broke out in China’s Wuhan, has infected more than 81,000 people globally and killed more than 2,800 people, reports Reuters.