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Trump considers Italy and South Korea travel bans as Saudi Arabia bars entry to holy sites

The decision comes after the Middle East recorded at least 220 cases of Covid-19.

trump-impeachment-polls Trump has appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead coordination of the government's response. Source: Evan Vucci/PA Images

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump is considering travel restrictions on Italy and South Korea over coronavirus fears.

It comes after authorities in the US said they had detected the first case of unknown origin in the country, signaling that the virus may be spreading within communities. 

“I think that there’s a chance that it could get worse, a chance it could get fairly substantially worse, but nothing’s inevitable,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

He has appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the response to the disease.

Trump’s messaging was a step back from a senior health official who a day earlier had said Americans should be prepared to cancel mass gatherings and said schools and businesses should look at developing teleworking plans.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen,” the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Nancy Messonnier said yesterday, citing the global spread of the virus that has now infected 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, mostly in China.

As of Wednesday, there were 60 cases in the United States – 15 detected through the public health system and 45 repatriated from abroad, either from a cruise ship off Japan or from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first cases were identified.

Foreign nationals traveling from China within the past two weeks are currently banned from entering the US, and Trump said more countries could be added to the list.

“At the right time we may do it, right now it’s not the right time,” he said in response to a reporter’s question about South Korea and Italy.

South Korea has almost 1,600 cases, the highest outside China, while Italy has 400. Both countries have reported 12 deaths.

“Italy is, you know, a deeper problem, and we’re checking people coming in very, very strongly from those and at some point we may cut that off,” Trump said. 

Last night, the State Department raised its travel advisory caution level for South Korea to the second-highest, now urging Americans to reconsider traveling there.

Holy sites

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has barred foreigners from entering the country – including those coming to visit the holiest sites in Islam – following fears about the spread of coronavirus.

The country’s decision comes months before the annual hajj pilgrimage and after 220 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 illness have been recorded in the Middle East.

The decision stops foreigners from reaching the holy city of Mecca and the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims pray toward five times a day.

Fears over the outbreak potentially spreading into Saudi Arabia appear to have prompted the decision, with the country’s oil-rich monarchy staking its legitimacy on protecting Islam’s holy sites.

The centre of the outbreak in Iran, the most-affected country in the Middle East, appears to be in the holy Shiite city of Qom, where a shrine there sees the faithful reach out to kiss and touch it in reverence.

“Saudi Arabia renews its support for all international measures to limit the spread of this virus, and urges its citizens to exercise caution before travelling to countries experiencing coronavirus outbreaks,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement announcing the decision.

cr The decision stops foreigners from reaching the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque. Source: PA Images

“We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm.”

Disease outbreaks always have been a concern surrounding the hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life, especially as pilgrims come from all over the world.

The earliest recorded outbreak came in 632 as pilgrims fought off malaria, while a cholera outbreak in 1821 killed an estimated 20,000 pilgrims and another cholera outbreak in 1865 killed 15,000 pilgrims and then spread worldwide.

Contains reporting from © – AFP 2020

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