File photo: A group of Umrah pilgrims preparing to leave for Saudi Arabia. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News Archives

Saudi Arabia banned citizens and residents from performing pilgrimage in Mecca over fears of coronavirus, state-run news agency SPA said on Wednesday.

The rare step by the kingdom, which hosts  Islam's holiest sites, expands on restrictions introduced last week for Muslim pilgrims from abroad making the same religious trips and limiting the entry of tourists. The latest measures concern the Umrah pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca and visits to a site in Medina.

"The decision will be under constant review and it will be reversed as soon as the reasons for reversal are present," SPA quoted an Interior Ministry official as saying.

Umrah is a non-compulsory ritual. The kingdom, which has one confirmed case of the virus, hasn't put restrictions in place for the obligatory Haj pilgrimage, which doesn't begin this year until the end of July.

Mecca, birthplace of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), is home to Islam's holiest site inside the Grand Mosque. Medina is where the Propher is buried. The Umrah pilgrimage alone brought almost 7 million visitors from October 2018 to May 2019, according to government data.

Coronavirus outbreak