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People doing the Umrah making Tawaf around Kaaba in Mecca

A small number of people worshipped at Islam's holiest site in Mecca on Sunday after Saudi Arabia lifted coronavirus restrictions that had been in place for months.

The male worshippers donned the white garment symbolic of the Muslim pilgrimage.

The kingdom had taken the rare step of suspending the smaller "umrah" pilgrimage that draws millions year-round from across the world in early March as the coronavirus morphed into a global pandemic and prompted countries to impose lockdowns and curfews to slow down transmission.

But as nations begin to ease those restrictions, the Saudi government on Sunday started allowing a maximum of 6,000 pilgrims a day to enter the sprawling Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Only Saudi citizens and residents will be permitted to enter the mosque during this first phase of reopening, and each person has up to three hours to complete the pilgrimage.

The Grand Mosque, which is being sterilized and cleaned multiple times a day, houses the cube-shaped Kaaba that observant Muslims pray toward five times a day.

Before visitors can enter the mosque to pray or perform the umrah, they have to apply and reserve a specific time and date through an online application to avoid crowding and maintain social distancing.

Visitors can also select via the app their means of transportation and meeting points.

State TV showed on Sunday what appeared to be fewer than 50 people circling the Kaaba at the same time and walking several meters (feet) apart.

Typically, the mosque would be packed with worshippers from around the world crowded shoulder-to-shoulder at all times of the day and night.

The second phase for loosening restrictions at the Grand Mosque comes into effect on October 18, allowing a maximum of 15,000 pilgrims and 40,000 for prayer from among residents and citizens based on allocated times via the app.

Meanwhile at the Iraqi holy shrine city of Karbala thousands of Muslim Shiites worshipped ahead of the Arbaeen pilgrimage, one of the biggest religious gatherings in the world.

Arbaeen marks the end of the 40-day mourning period for the seventh-century killing of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, by followers of Caliph Yazid, and will be observed on Thursday.

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