Drawing lessons from what happened in Iran, Saudi Arabia’s decision to temporarily halt all religious pilgrimages does not come as a surprise.
Most of the coronavirus cases that have emerged in neighbouring countries like Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain are linked to travellers who had gone to Iran for religious visits.
The ban comes less than 60 days before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins. This is the second busiest period during which millions of pilgrims visit Mecca – the birth place of the Prophet.
The authorities have also decided not to allow non-religious travellers from countries where the coronavirus has spread.
This decision comes at a time when the Saudi government has been giving a big push to the tourism sector by liberating visa rules to attract more visitors. The authorities are aiming for tourism to constitute 10% of GDP by 2030.
The country’s economy is already under pressure – with oil prices sliding due to fall in demand. The kingdom is the top supplier of oil to China.