Muslim worshippers pray and circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on August 25, 2018. (Photo by BANDAR ALDANDANI / AFP)

Saudi Arabia will be temporarily suspending the entry of citizens from the Gulf Cooperation Council to the Kingdom’s cities of Mecca and Madinah, according to a statement from the foreign ministry. The decision comes a day after the kingdom suspended visas for the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage.

The GCC states are comprised of Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar. The ministry has not cleared whether this suspension is extended to Saudi citizens. This unprecedented decision which has left thousands of pilgrims in limbo excludes GCC citizens who have been in the kingdom for 14 consecutive days and did not show signs of coronavirus infection.

The ministry has also issued a statement clarifying that those who wish to perform Umrah or visit the Prophet’s Mosque can apply through the website of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah (Umrah online course) to obtain a permit during the period of temporary suspension.

Although Saudi Arabia has so far reported no coronavirus cases there are mounting concerns over a spike in infections elsewhere in the Middle East.

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