Amid the COVID-19 outbreak in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has taken extreme measures to protect its people and pilgrims from the virus.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia emptied Islam's holiest site, Mecca, for sterilization as the number of infections in the kingdom reached five. This came nearly a week after the kingdom suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage and then temporarily banned Saudi citizens, residents, and foreigners from going about their intended plans.
Harrowing images and videos of an empty white area surrounding the Kaaba, the center of Mecca's Grand Mosque, circulated online soon after, and it became the topic of discussion all over the world. The holy site normally hosts millions of pilgrims during both Umrah and Hajj seasons.
Though it was only a "temporary preventive measure," it still blew people's minds away.
The decision to close off Mecca is "unprecedented," a Saudi official told AFP.
The closure of Mecca happened 40 years ago during "The Seige of Mecca" in 1979 when the Grand Mosque of Mecca was attacked, impacting and changing the entire course of Saudi history.
Nearly 7 million people visit Mecca annually to perform Umrah, a non-compulsory pilgrimage that takes place at any time of the year. With Hajj coming up in July, it remains unclear what will actually happen till then.
Saudi Arabia depends heavily on religious pilgrimages in terms of revenue, though it's been shifting gears by building other sources of non-oil revenue in recent years. With the coronavirus outbreak, those sectors, including tourism, have been affected. The kingdom has banned tourist visas for individuals from a number of countries including China, Italy, and Iran among others.
The hotel sector alone in the cities of Mecca and Medina is predicted to endure about 40 percent in losses compared to last year due to the recent Umrah bans. According to Arab News, officials have said that the airline, transportation, and catering sectors would also be impacted as a result of the ban.