Saudi Arabia to halt prayers in Mecca and Medina

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Saudi Arabia will halt all five daily prayers in Mecca and Medina as of Friday to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

A spokesperson for the General Presidency of Mecca's Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina made the announcement on Thursday evening in a statement.

"Security and health agencies decided to suspend the presence of people and prayers in the outer courtyards of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina starting from 20 March, as part of precautionary and preventative measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus," Hani bin Hosni Haider said.

Weekly Friday prayers will be included in the ban, where Muslims traditionally gather for a prayer and sermon around noon. 

Mecca and Medina are the two holiest sites in Islam.

Saudi Arabia previously banned all prayers in Mosques, but had initially excluded Mecca and Medina.

This comes hours after the country's King Salman warned Thursday of a "more difficult" fight ahead against coronavirus, as the kingdom faces the double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.

"We are going through a difficult stage," the king said in the first televised speech by a Gulf leader on the pandemic.

"The next stage will be more difficult at the global level to confront the rapid spread of the pandemic," he added.

Saudi Arabia has reported 274 COVID-19 cases but no deaths so far.

The Arab world's biggest economy has shut down cinemas, malls and restaurants, halted flights and suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage as it steps up efforts to contain the deadly virus.

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