Saturday 29 February 2020 4:00 AM UTC
Riyadh Feb 29: Saudi Arabia on Friday barred citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council from entering two of Islam’s holiest cities amid fears over the new coronavirus, the foreign ministry said.
The foreign ministry announced in a statement “the temporary suspension of entry of the Council’s citizens to the cities of Mecca and Medina.”
The GCC states are comprised of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar.
The ministry statement did not confirm whether this suspension extended to Saudi citizens.
But it said the decision excludes “GCC citizens who have been in the kingdom for 14 consecutive days and did not show signs of coronavirus infection”.
The decision comes a day after the kingdom suspended visas for the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage, an unprecedented move that has left tens of thousands of pilgrims in limbo.
GCC citizens can enter the kingdom with their national identity document, but citizens of other countries require a visa.
Saudi Arabia has so far reported no coronavirus cases but there are mounting concerns over a spike in infections elsewhere in the Middle East.
Worshippers pray in Mecca as Saudi Arabia suspends visas for visits to Islam’s holiest sites for the “Umrah” pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the annual hajj.
The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, on Thursday also suspended visas for tourists from countries affected by the virus as fears of a pandemic deepen.
In particular, electronic tourist visas for people arriving from seven countries, including China, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Kazakhstan, have been suspended, according to state media.
Saudi Arabia said the suspensions were temporary, but it provided no timeframe for when they will be lifted.
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