Saudi empties Makkah's Grand Mosque for 'sterilisation'

Published March 5, 2020
Workers sterilise the ground in front of the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday. — AP
Workers sterilise the ground in front of the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday. — AP

Saudi Arabia on Thursday emptied the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site, for sterilisation over fears of the new coronavirus, an unprecedented move after the kingdom suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage.

State television relayed stunning images of an empty white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba — inside Makkah's Grand Mosque, which is usually packed with tens of thousands of pilgrims.

The move was a “temporary preventive measure” but the upper floors of the Grand Mosque were still open for prayers, a Saudi official told AFP. He called the measure “unprecedented”.

On Wednesday, the kingdom halted the Umrah pilgrimage for its own citizens and residents.

The move came after authorities last week suspended visas for the Umrah and barred citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council from entering Makkah and Madina.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday declared three new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of reported infections to five.

The decision to suspend the Umrah comes ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramazan starting in late April, which is a favoured period for pilgrimage.

It is unclear how the coronavirus will affect the Haj, due to start in late July.

Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world in 2019 to perform the Haj.

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