22.11.2019

Saudi Arabia suspends Hajj visas for DR Congo over Ebola

Saudi Arabia has banned entry to travellers coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo over fears Ebola could spread during next month’s Hajj pilgrimage.

The six-day Hajj pilgrimage is obligatory once in a lifetime for all Muslims with the means to afford it [File: Dar Yasin/AP]

The decision, announced in a note issued on Wednesday by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, cited last week’s move by the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the Ebola outbreak in DRC’s eastern North Kivu and Ituri provinces a public health emergency of international concern.

“The granting of arrivals visas for people entering from DRC has been stopped, to conserve the well-being of pilgrims,” the Saudi ministry’s note said.

It was not clear how many people’s applications had been affected by the move.

About three percent of DRC’s population is Muslim, according to a poll by the New York-based Congo Research Group, while people from sub-Saharan Africa make up about 10 percent of the more than two million annual pilgrims to the holy city of Mecca.

WHO plea ignored

Riyadh’s move came despite the WHO saying at the time of its international emergency declaration that no country should close its borders or place any restrictions on travel or trade because of Ebola and urging governments elsewhere in Africa and around the world not to “panic” in response to the decision.

The epidemic has killed more than 1,700 people – more than two-thirds of those who contracted it – since it emerged last August, according to the DRC’s health ministry. It is the second-worst outbreak of its kind on record.

Saudi Arabia also partially shuttered its borders to travellers amid fears over Ebola during the world’s deadliest ever eruption of the virus, which killed more than 11,300 people as it surged through West Africa during 2014-2016.

The kingdom suspended pilgrimage visas for travellers from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – the three worst-affected countries.

For Muslims, the Hajj re-enacts the actions of the Prophet Muhammad in his “farewell pilgrimage” in 632 BCE. It is a central pillar of the Islamic faith meant to cleanse followers of sin and bring them closer to God.

The six-day pilgrimage is obligatory once in a lifetime for all Muslims with the means to afford it.

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