Coronavirus halts Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Friday prayers in Iran

The practice of Islam itself is being disrupted in the Middle East as governments around the world are taking drastic measures to control the outbreak of the coronavirus as countries see a spike in infections.

In Saudi Arabia, the government expanded its decision last week to ban foreigners from making the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina – home of the holiest sites in Islam. Now, it is banning its citizens and residents from visiting those sites.

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Saudi Arabia on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, halted travel to the holiest sites in Islam over fears of the global outbreak of the new coronavirus just months ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage, a move coming as the Mideast has over 220 confirmed cases of the illness. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

Saudi Arabia on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, halted travel to the holiest sites in Islam over fears of the global outbreak of the new coronavirus just months ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage, a move coming as the Mideast has over 220 confirmed cases of the illness. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

Meanwhile, Iran – which has been under fire this week after videos of men kissing and licking holy shrines in Qom went viral this week – has decided to cancel all Friday prayers in major cities.

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Friday is the main congregational day of prayer in Islam, and traditionally an important event for Iranian cleric leaders. Tehran and other areas had canceled Friday prayers last week over the outbreak.

Iran announced Wednesday the new coronavirus – officially known as COVID-19 – has killed 92 people amid 2,922 confirmed cases, the highest death toll in the world outside of mainland China.

In this Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, photo, a man disinfects the shrine of Saint Masoumeh against coronavirus in the city of Qom 78 miles south of the capital Tehran, Iran. Iran's government said Monday that 12 people had died nationwide from the new coronavirus, rejecting claims of a much higher death toll of 50 by a lawmaker from the city of Qom that has been at the epicenter of the virus in the country. 

In this Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, photo, a man disinfects the shrine of Saint Masoumeh against coronavirus in the city of Qom 78 miles south of the capital Tehran, Iran. Iran's government said Monday that 12 people had died nationwide from the new coronavirus, rejecting claims of a much higher death toll of 50 by a lawmaker from the city of Qom that has been at the epicenter of the virus in the country.  (ISNA via AP)

There are now over 3,140 coronavirus cases across the Middle East – most of which are linked back to the Islamic Republic.

“The virus has no wings to fly,” Iranian Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. “We are the ones who transfer it to each other."

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The coronavirus outbreak has not only disrupted the practice of Islam itself in the Middle East, Christian and Catholic churches around the world are also taking measures to protect their congregants.

Churchgoers have been asked to stop shaking hands, communal cups are in storage and holy water stoups are dry.

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Meanwhile, in Italy, similar drastic measures are taking place as the Italian government has reportedly ordered schools nationwide to close for the next two weeks to limit the spread of the virus.

While Italian media reported the closure, the country’s education minister said a final decision has not yet been confirmed.

Italy has seen its virus caseload explode since the first positive test was registered in northern Lombardy on Feb. 19. Since then, more than 2,500 people in Italy have tested positive, and 79 have died.

Italy, the home of the Catholic Church, is the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak.

South Korea, Italy, and Iran now account for 80 percent of the new virus cases outside of China, the World Health Organization said.

A worker wearing a face mask sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the new coronavirus at Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. 

A worker wearing a face mask sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the new coronavirus at Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.  (Yonhap via AP)

“People are afraid and uncertain. Fear is a natural human response to any threat,” WHO’s leader, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday. “But as we get more data, we are understanding this virus and the disease it causes more and more.”

WHO said about 3.4 percent of people infected with the COVID-19 virus globally have died, making it more fatal than the common flu.

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In the U.S., more than 120 cases have been reported. Nine people have died, all in and around Seattle, Washington. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers were expected to finalize an agreement Wednesday on a $7.5 billion emergency bill to fund work on a virus vaccine and other measures.

Fox News' Caleb Parke and the Associated Press contributed to this report.