Saudi Arabia Denounces Iran for Accepting Saudi Visitors Amid Coronavirus

RIYADH, March 5 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia denounced Iran for granting Saudi citizens entry amid the coronavirus outbreak and urged it to reveal the identities of all Saudi nationals who had visited since the start of February, a government statement said on Thursday.

The statement, which cited an unnamed official, urged Saudi citizens who are currently in Iran or have returned recently to report their travel, promising if they did so in 48 hours they would not be subjected to a law forbidding travel to Iran.

Saudi Arabia has reported five cases of the flu-like disease. Four of them were citizens who had recently visited Iran via Bahrain or Kuwait but did not disclose their travel details. The fifth is the wife of one of them.

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“These actions are a proof of Iran’s direct responsibility in increasing COVID-19 infections and in the virus’s outbreak all around the world,” the Saudi statement said, using the official name for the virus.

Iran, which has emerged as an epicentre for the disease in the Middle East, has reported 107 deaths from the virus, putting it on a par with Italy as the country with the highest death toll outside China where the virus emerged two months ago.

Iran hosts several important shrines and pilgrimage sites for Shi’ite Muslims, who make up a minority of Saudi Arabia’s population. The two countries are locked in a struggle for regional supremacy.

In a bid to head off a major outbreak in Saudi Arabia, authorities have barred entry by foreign pilgrims and traditional tourists from some 25 countries and said that citizens and residents of Gulf Cooperation Council countries wishing to enter must wait 14 days after returning from outside the region.

(Reporting by Stephen Kalin Editing by Chris Reese and Nick Macfie)