Muslim pilgrims walking around the Kaaba in Mecca. Photo: Abdulghani Basheer/AFP via Getty Images

Saudi Arabia announced Thursday that it is banning foreign pilgrims from entering the country to visit Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina due to the novel coronavirus, AP reports.

Why it matters: The unprecedented decision comes months ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage when millions of Muslims travel to the kingdom — and appears sparked in part by Iran's outbreak in the holy city of Qom. Saudi Arabia also said that it would suspend entry to tourists holding visas from 22 countries most affected by the virus.

Go deeper ... Coronavirus updates: New global case numbers surpass China's

Go deeper

Updated 29 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 p.m. ET: 12,389,660 — Total deaths: 557,279 — Total recoveries — 6,830,596Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 p.m. ET: 3,169,611 — Total deaths: 133,885 — Total recoveries: 983,185 — Total tested: 38,856,341Map.
  3. Public health: The reality of the coronavirus bites.
  4. Trade: Trump says he's no longer considering phase-two trade deal with China because the pandemic damaged the two countries' relationship.
  5. 🎧 Podcast: Rural America has its own coronavirus problem.
2 hours ago - Health

Reality of the coronavirus bites

National Airport in D.C. Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images

It feels like mid-March in America again. The coronavirus is surging, deaths are climbing and the country is dreading a wave of disruptions, less than four months since the first round started.

The big picture: Lingering under all the happy talk of future plans is the reality of this virus — which thrives in potential super-spreader conditions like mass gatherings.

3 hours ago - Podcasts

Rural America has its own coronavirus problem

It's often easier to socially distance in rural America, but it can simultaneously be more challenging to get medical care.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the pandemic's urban-rural divide with microbiologist Amber Schmidtke, who has found that coronavirus-related morbidity is higher in many of Georgia's rural counties than in Atlanta.