DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia has halted travel to Islam's holiest sites over fears about a new viral epidemic months ahead of the hajj pilgrimage. The extraordinary decision stops foreigners from reaching the holy city of Mecca and Prophet Muhammad's mosque in Medina. The decision shows the concern about the outbreak potentially spreading into Saudi Arabia, whose oil-rich monarchy stakes its legitimacy on protecting Islam's holy sites. Experts are concerned Iran may be underreporting cases and deaths, given the illness' rapid spread from the Islamic Republic across the Persian Gulf. Iran announced 26 deaths among 245 confirmed cases of the virus on Thursday.

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