Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented step of suspending the Umrah pilgrimage for its citizens and residents, saying it wanted to prevent the coronavirus from spreading through the “intense flow” of crowds to holy sites. The decision comes after Saudi Arabia last week suspended visas for the pilgrimage and barred citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council from entering Mecca and Medina, two of Islam’s holiest cities.Saudi Arabia on Monday confirmed its first case of new coronavirus after one its citizens who had returned from COVID-19 hotspot Iran tested positive. Notably, the decision will be reviewed regularly and reversed when the situation changes.Saudis and residents can still visit Mecca and Medina and pray there, provided they do not go for the purpose of umrah, deputy haj minister Abdulfattah Mashat said. Saudi Arabia last week halted umrah visas for foreigners and banned Gulf citizens from visiting the two cities because of the virus.It also barred tourists from at least 25 countries where the virus has been found, and on Tuesday it limited arrivals of travelers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Pilgrimage is big business for Saudi Arabia and is the backbone of plans to develop tourism under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic reform agenda.Visits by pilgrims accelerate during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, beginning this year in late April.