Saudi Arabia Umrah Pilgrimage 2013: July 8 Set As Deadline for Visas, 15-Day Limit to Contain Deadly Virus

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | July 1, 2013 1:16 PM EST

Saudi Arabia, determined to control the possible spread of the fatal Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) to the other global nations, has imposed a 15-day limit observance of the Umrah pilgrimage.

Pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba, in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) during the Hajj

Pilgrims to the Umrah, otherwise known as the lesser Hajj, are forecast to peak during the holy month of Ramadan which is between July 9 and August 7 for 2013. However, each pilgrim will only be afforded a 15-day period to observe the holy day. The greater Hajj will take place from October 13 to 18.

Moreover, the Saudi foreign affairs ministry has announced it will stop issuing Umrah visas on July 8, in support of the control measures toward the potential global health menace.

Relative to this year's Umrah, the KSA has already issued around four million visas.

"According to our figures, 3.9 million people have left and there are now around 250,000 in the country. That's the number we would like to keep, so we need to ensure that people leave within a specific frame of time to allow others to arrive," the ministry said.

Since MERS-CoV virus can spread through close contact, experts fear the peak periods of Umrah and Hajj will be the virus' perfect breeding ground. The possibility of infected pilgrims returning home after the Umrah and Hajj and spreading the infection in other nations have prompted the Saudi Arabia government to urge the people to defer plans to 2014.

Read: Saudi Arabia Advises Pilgrims to Defer Hajj To Next Year, Cites Delayed Expansion Works at Grand Mosque, Fears Over MERS Coronavirus

In 2012, about 6 million pilgrims visited oil-rich nation Saudi Arabia as part of the annual Umrah-Hajj pilgrimage.

Although the World Health Organisation has yet to call for a travel restriction ban to Saudi Arabia, it has called on nations to monitor respiratory infections, especially among patients returning from the Middle East.

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