Saudi Arabia yesterday announced launching a new electronic system to enable Umrah pilgrims, which have been cancelled as a result of the coronavirus, to get refunds .
In an official statement, the country's Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said that the move comes after a recent decision by the Saudi government to temporarily suspend entry to the kingdom to prevent Coronavirus spread.
Official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported that the system would authorise pilgrimage agents in the different countries to submit an electronic request to reclaim the fees paid by their travellers. The ministry urged all those who have refund claims for visa fees and service charges to contact the local Umrah agents in their respective countries.
On Thursday, the Saudi authorities temporarily suspended Umrah pilgrims' entry into the kingdom, with that aim to "prevent Coronavirus' arrival into the country." Entry is also suspended for visits to the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. It was unclear if the haj pilgrimage, which is scheduled to begin in late July, would be impacted.
Saudi Arabia has had no cases of the coronavirus but it has been spreading in some neighbouring countries.
The kingdom, which hosts the two holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Medina, welcomes millions of Muslim visitors throughout the year with a peak for the haj pilgrimage. It introduced a new tourism visa last October for 49 countries.
The coronavirus first appeared in China for the first time on 12 December in the city of Wuhan, but Beijing officially revealed it in mid-January. It has sounded a global alarm with China reporting 2,592 deaths from the outbreak on Monday with over 77,000 confirmed cases.
Outside mainland China, the coronavirus has spread to more than 25 other countries including the US, the UK, Singapore, France, Russia, Spain and India. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak an international health emergency.