Saudi Arabia has reportedly banned people from the Democratic Republic of Congo seeking to enter the country due to the ongoing Ebola outbreak.
The Saudi Foreign Affairs ministry has suspended the issuance of visas to the Congolese people who planned to take part in the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia next month. It is feared that people from DRC could spread during the haj pilgrimage.
“The granting of arrivals visas for people entering from DR Congo has been stopped, to conserve the well being of pilgrims,” the ministry statement read in part, reported Reuters.
The announcement comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in DRC’s eastern North Kivu and Ituri provinces as a public health emergency of international concern.
According to the DRC’s health ministry, the epidemic has killed more than 1,700 people – more than two-thirds of those who contracted it – since it emerged last August. It is the second-worst outbreak of its kind on record. The outbreak is currently restricted to the east of the country where efforts are underway to contain it.
It currently remains unclear how many people’s applications had been suspended.
According to a poll by the New York-based Congo Research Group, about three percent of DRC’s population is Muslim, while people from sub-Saharan Africa make up about 10 percent of the more than two million annual pilgrims to the holy city of Mecca.
During the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak, which killed more than 11,000 people, Saudi Arabia had suspended pilgrimage visas for travelers from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, the three worst-affected countries.
The World Bank recently offered an additional crisis aid of $300 million to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to stop the spread of the deadly the Ebola outbreak. The grant will be largely financed through the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and its Crisis Response Window.