Saudi Arabia bars foreigners from holy sites

BBC – Saudi Arabia has stopped foreigners from entering the country for religious visits, including to the two holiest sites in Islam – Mecca and Medina.

Millions of people go to the country throughout the year for Umrah with a big surge in visitors during the Hajj pilgrimage.

It’s unclear if Hajj, which is due to begin in late July, will be affected.

The country has also barred visitors from countries where the new coronavirus has spread.

Saudi Arabia has no confirmed cases of the disease.

One of the doubts about Saudi Arabia’s pilgrimage ban is whether it will be there until July and August, when Hajj takes place.

But Umrah pilgrimages go on all year round – and it is certain that thousands of Pakistanis will have to drop or reschedule their plans.

However, the ban doesn’t seem to have come as a shock.

Nevertheless, a sense of the impact can be had from Saudi government statistics recently published in this report.

Pakistanis have been on top in terms of numbers performing Umrah over the past two years, followed by Indonesia and India.

As many as 2.1 million Pakistanis performed Umrah in 2019, while the number for 2018 was 1.7 million.

The total number for January to June 2019 was 1.6 million – an average of more than 8,900 people a day.

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