Riyadh [Saudi Arabia]: Saudi Arabia has suspended issuing visas to pilgrims from the Democratic Republic of the Congo over fears that Ebola could spread during next month’s Hajj pilgrimage there.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday announced the decision in a note cited by Al Jazeera, saying, “The granting of arrivals visas for people entering from DRC has been stopped, to conserve the well-being of pilgrims.”
The suspension came after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the Ebola outbreak in Congo’s eastern North Kivu and Ituri provinces a public health emergency of international concern.
It was not clear how many people’s applications had been affected by the move.
About three per cent of Congo’s population is Muslim who had planned to take part in the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia next month.
Riyadh’s move came despite the World Health Organisation 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 Congo’s health ministry. It is the second-worst outbreak of its kind on record.
The Kingdom also suspended pilgrimage visas for travellers from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – the three worst-affected countries.
Saudi Arabia also suspended visas during West Africa’s Ebola outbreak a few years ago in which more than 11,000 people died.