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Turkey quarantines thousands of pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia


Thousands of Muslims returning to Turkey from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia were being taken into quarantine on Sunday due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, Turkish officials said.


The latest move came after Health Minister Fahrettin Koca called overnight for those returning from the Umrah pilgrimage to quarantine themselves for a fortnight, saying a returnee in the last week had become the sixth person to test positive. 

He then announced on Sunday that the state was actively quarantining the returnees. 

“All passengers returning from the Umrah since last night are being put into quarantine in separate rooms in student dormitories,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that those suspected of being ill were being taken to hospital for tests. 

Earlier in March, Saudi Arabia expanded a rare freeze on pilgrimages to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina by foreigners to also include Saudi citizens and residents due to concerns about coronavirus.  

The head of Turkey’s religious directorate, Ali Erbas, said on Saturday that the last 5,300 Turkish pilgrims were in the process of returning to Turkey, but at the time he said the pilgrims should self-isolate at home for two weeks. 

A day earlier he said that 21,000 pilgrims were to return from Saudi Arabia by March 15, but it was not clear whether they were all to go into quarantine.