A senior Saudi official urged more than 1 million Muslims intending to perform the hajj to delay making plans this year — comments suggesting the pilgrimage could be cancelled due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

In February, the kingdom took the extraordinary decision to close off the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to foreigners over the virus, a step which wasn’t taken even during the 1918 flu epidemic that killed tens of millions worldwide.

Restrictions have tightened in the kingdom as it grapples with over 1,500 confirmed cases of the new virus. The kingdom has reported 10 deaths so far.

The Middle East has over 75,000 confirmed cases of the virus, most of those in Iran, and over 3,400 deaths. Iran’s health ministry spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, said Wednesday that the virus had killed another 138 people, pushing the country’s death toll to 3,036 amid 47,593 confirmed cases.

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“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is prepared to secure the safety of all Muslims and nationals,” Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Banten told state television. “That’s why we have requested from all Muslims around the world to hold onto signing any agreements (with tour operators) until we have a clear vision.”

2:10Coronavirus around the world: March 30, 2020

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