JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s temporary ban on Umrah pilgrims, imposed as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the killer coronavirus, was on Thursday backed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The OIC’s General Secretariat stressed its full support for the Kingdom’s preventive measures aimed at protecting its citizens and worshippers intending to perform Umrah or visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the decision to suspend entry to the country for Umrah pilgrims was made to ensure public safety and stop the deadly virus, known as Covid-19, from spreading.
The common practice of foreign pilgrims visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah before or after the completion of their religious duties in Makkah, had also been halted, the ministry added.
Approving the move, the OIC said: “The Kingdom’s decision to ban the entry of pilgrims temporarily will help preserve their safety. It comes in line with the adopted international standards and supports the efforts of states and international organizations, particularly the World Health Organization (WHO).”
The OIC’s view was on Thursday echoed by the Council of Arab Health Ministers at the end of its 53rd session being held at the Arab League’s headquarters.
Council members highlighted the importance of “boosting cooperation between Arab states to implement joint measures preventing the transmission of Covid-19 and supporting the affected states when discovering new cases.”
The health ministers also emphasized the necessity of making the most of the adoption of risk assessment systems and approaches for dealing with the virus outbreak among Arab states.
The council commended measures already taken by Arab countries, in accordance with WHO guidelines, to respond, prevent and fight the spread of the coronavirus. It pointed out the importance of promoting communication, the exchange of information, and continuous coordination between Arab League member states and their relevant health bodies and sectors.
However, chairman of the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s committee on hotels, Abdullah Filali, warned of tough times ahead for the holy city’s accommodation sector.
He told Arab News that with more than 1,300 hotels, Makkah was heading toward a difficult season with high financial losses if the Umrah ban continued and was extended until Ramadan.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Minister of Religious Endowments Sheikh Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, gave his support to the Saudi move. “The decision to ban Umrah visas is justified, as it intends to preserve the lives of pilgrims from a certain doom. The Saudi foreign ministry said that this measure is temporary and will be continuously re-evaluated,” he said.
“We all know that crowded places are more vulnerable to the spread of the virus, which was confirmed by the WHO’s reports. We ask Allah to save all humanity and protect Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world against all harm,” the minister added.
Sheikh Dr. Khalid Al-Halibi, director of the House of Expertise for Research and Social Studies, said: “We support our government’s decision which aims to preserve the lives and the well-being of the people. It is a necessary preventive measure that was appreciated by the professionals.”
The Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques announced its readiness to deal with any epidemic, saying it would provide all necessary information to pilgrims and had doubled cleaning schedules for courtyards and corridors at the Two Holy Mosques.
Highly qualified cadres used the latest cleaning and sterilization tools, said Jaber Widaani, director of the mosques’ department of disinfection and carpets, noting that 13,500 prayer rugs were swept and fragranced on a daily basis.
The presidency added that it was raising media awareness in all languages and via information screens to pass on the latest medical instructions and emergency developments.