March 1, 2020 / 2:55 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Saudi Arabia prepares 25 hospitals to handle coronavirus cases -health ministry

(Adds quotes from Saudi officials, Qatar reporting new cases)

RIYADH, March 1 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it had prepared 25 hospitals to handle any coronavirus cases that might be detected in the kingdom, part of precautionary measures which include closing its borders to foreign “umrah” pilgrims.

Health ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali told a news conference that 2,200 hospital beds were dedicated for quarantine cases.

The kingdom has not recorded any cases of the new coronavirus so far, he said, adding that Saudi Arabia’s trade activity had not been impacted and “is going as usual”.

Saudi Arabia, which has Islam’s two holiest sites, on Thursday announced a ban on foreigners coming to the kingdom for the umrah pilgrimage, which can take place at any time of the year, and to tourists from at least 25 countries where the virus has been found.

Other Gulf Arab states have reported coronavirus cases, many linked to visits to Iran or involving people who have come into contact with people who had been there.

Iran has reported 54 deaths from the virus, the highest number of deaths from the virus outside of China, where the outbreak originated late last year. (Reporting by Marwa Rashad, writing by Alaa Swilam, editing by Susan Fenton and Ros Russell)

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