Turkey quarantines pilgrims returning from Saudi

Muslim worshippers wear masks after the noon prayers outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca on March 7. (AP pic)

ISTANBUL: Turkey on Sunday quarantined thousands of pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia, officials said, as the country recorded a dozen more coronavirus cases.

The total number of confirmed incidents in over 80 million strong Turkey has reached 18, with 12 new cases – two related to the first case, seven from Europe and three from the United States, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on Twitter.

“All the passengers returning from pilgrimage as of last night (Saturday) are being placed into separate rooms for quarantine” in student dorms in the capital Ankara and nearby Konya provinces, the minister said.

Approximately 10,000 pilgrims returned from Saudi Arabia Saturday night, youth and sports minister Mehmet Kasapoglu was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency.

Koca said one of the pilgrims who returned from the umrah – the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca – over the last week had tested positive.

“Those found suspicious are hospitalised as soon as they return and tested,” he said.

Turkish television showed pilgrims in Ankara wearing protective masks taken in buses to the dormitories.

The umrah, which can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe annually.

It remains unclear however how the coronavirus will affect the hajj, due to start in late July.

Saudi Arabia has suspended the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage over fears surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in Islam’s holiest cities of Mecca and Medina, has said the move was provisional.

Turkey’s religious affairs authority, Diyanet, said the travels for pilgrimage have been halted from Feb 27.

‘Strict measures’

“The number of cases in Turkey has unfortunately risen to 18 today,” said Fahrettin Altun, the senior press aide of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey had mobilised all resources to confront this “unprecedented challenge”, he added.

“We are implementing strong monitoring protocols in our land and sea borders in addition to already strict measures at our airports,” he tweeted.

As part of its bid to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, Turkey has applied travel restrictions on a total of 15 countries including France, Italy and Germany.

The interior ministry on Sunday said nightclubs, bars and discotheques would be “temporarily” closed from Monday.

Ankara has already ordered schools to close for two weeks from Monday and universities to take a three-week holiday, as well as imposing restrictions on civil servants’ foreign travel.

It has ordered sporting events without spectators until the end of April while culture and art events have been postponed.

Erdogan, who has suspended foreign travel, will hold a video conference with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss migrant crisis on Tuesday, rather than a previously announced summit in Istanbul.

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