Saudi Arabia has announced that the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medinah will close an hour after Isha prayers and will reopen an hour before Fajr prayers each day in the latest precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The Kingdom suspended all Umrah pilgrimages on Wednesday over coronavirus fears and authorities have cleared out the Grand Mosque in preparation for its sterilisation.
A Saudi official said the deep-cleaning operation is a “temporary preventive measure” that is “unprecedented.” Upper floors remain open for prayers, he added.
Videos posted online on Thursday showed a deserted mataf, the area where pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba.
The areas surrounding the Kaaba between the hills of Safa and Marwah will remain closed until the Umrah ban is lifted. Prayers will be performed inside the Grand Mosque.
Bringing food and drink into the mosques is now prohibited and access to Zamzam containers will temporarily be stopped, officials said.
Meanwhile, the Sacred Chamber in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medinah, which houses the graves of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his two companions, Abu Bakr Siddiq (ra) and Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra), will also be closed off to worshippers.
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The changes at the Two Holy Mosques came as the Kingdom accused Iran of increasing the global threat from the coronavirus by not properly documenting the arrival and departure of foreign visitors.
The Ministry of Health previously announced five Saudis tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from Iran, via Bahrain and Kuwait, without revealing they had been there.
An official source in the Kingdom denounced the “irresponsible action” of granting Saudi citizens entry to Iran without stamping their passports at a time when there is an outbreak of the virus in the country.
It is proof of Iran’s direct responsibility for growing infection rates and the spread of the virus around the world, the source said. Such behaviour poses a serious public-health threat to the global community, undermines international containment efforts, and puts communities at greater risk, he added.
On the other hand, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday that the international community has a duty to help the country’s fight against coronavirus.
Zarif said in a post on Twitter that Iran’s efforts to contain the coronavirus would only succeed if countries in the region and around the world do their share of responsibilities and cooperate with Tehran.
The top Iranian diplomat said that Iran is closely cooperating with international agencies, like the World Health Organisation, to contain the spread of the disease both inside Iran and into other countries.
He also attached a video clip to his tweet showing that travelers arriving in the Iranian airports were going through strict controls and checks to spot any infection.
“Strict preventive measures—including screening of air travelers at departure gates—are being implemented,” read part of Zarif’s tweet.
A total of 107 people have died of coronavirus in Iran while the total number of confirmed cases was put at 3,513 as of Thursday noon local time.