The grounds of the Grand Mosque in Mecca will be washed and sterilised four times a day as part of a “deep clean” to ensure the safety of pilgrims and visitors, authorities in Saudi Arabia said, a move that appears to be triggered by fears of the spread of the coronavirus to the country.
Over 13,500 thousand prayer rugs will also be removed daily for washing and sterilisation, the General Presidency for the affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque said.
“Well trained workers are engaged in the cleaning and sterilising process by using the highly advanced equipment and materials of cleaning and sterilisation, in addition to spraying perfumes after it,” Jaber Widaani, director of Cleansing and Carpets Department at the holy mosque told the Saudi Press Agency.
The move comes after Saudi Arabia, which houses Islam’s holiest sites, announced on Thursday that it has suspended visas for visits for the “umrah” pilgrimage.
The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, also suspended visas for tourists from countries affected by the virus as fears of a pandemic deepen.
Saudi Arabia, which has so far reported no cases of the virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries, said the suspensions were temporary.
But it provided no timeframe for when they will be lifted, and the decision left tens of thousands of pilgrims preparing to visit the kingdom from around the world in limbo.
“The kingdom’s government has decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet’s mosque temporarily,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
“Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those coming from countries where the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger,” it added without naming them.
The measures come amid a spike in coronavirus infections across the Middle East even as the number of new cases has declined in China, where the disease originated.
Since its outbreak, the United Arab Emirates has reported 13 coronavirus cases, Kuwait has recorded 43, Bahrain has 33 and Oman is at four cases.
Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, with 34 fatalities – the highest death toll outside China.