Umrah pilgrims deplaned by airlines over coronavirus fears

Nearly 200 Umrah pilgrims from Kerala were deboarded from their flights to Saudi Arabia from Calicut international Airport here on Thursday after the gulf nation enforced a temporary ban on foreigners seeking to visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madina, following coronavirus scare.

Saudi Arabia halted travel to the holiest sites in Islam over fears about a viral epidemic just months ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage, a move that came as the Mideast has over 240 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.

According to Airports Authority of India officials, as many as 84 of passengers from the Saudi Airlines and 104 from the Spice Jet Airlines were denied permission to board the flights and travel to Saudi Arabia.

However, other passengers bound to Jeddah were permitted to fly, they said.

A private tour operator here said two batches of 40 pilgrims each were denied permission to travel to Makkah to perform Umrah on February 27.

Umrah is an Islamic pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of year.

"The pilgrims were denied entry by the two airlines, Spice Jet scheduled at 05:30 hrs and Saudi Airlines at 11:30 hrs," Naiful Akbar, a travel agent said.