The Saudi government will cover 60 per cent of the salaries of private-sector workers in industries hit by the coronavirus pandemic, King Salman announced on Friday.
The move is the latest major economic package in the kingdom to help cushion the financial impact of the virus as the number of cases hit 1,885 with 21 deaths.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency announced that companies forced to consider lay-offs due to the virus could now apply to the government to cover 60 per cent of the salaries of workers for the next three months up to 9,000 Saudi riyal per month (Dh 8,787).
The total economic package is valued at over 9 billion riyal.
Coronavirus in the Middle East
Finance Minister Mohammed Al Jadaan thanked King Salman and called on private sector companies to protect workers but also find ways to avoid firing people during the outbreak.
He said the new assistance package will be managed through Sanad, the national unemployment assistance system.
Mr Al Jadaan said that 1.2 million Saudis would be covered by the new measure and a committee under the financial authorities would assess the support and monitor the measure in case it needed to be extended beyond the three-month window.
The cover will begin in April with the first payments sent to companies on May 3, the minister said.
The government has already announced a package of measures to help companies hit by restrictions brought in to combat the spread of Covid-19.
The 70 billion riyal package exempted them from some taxes and fees and the SPA also highlighted a further 50 billion riyal support package to banks and financial institutions to aid small and medium enterprises.
The move comes after the government extended curfews in several areas on Thursday.
The holy cities of Makkah and Madinah are now under 24-hour curfew – up from 15 hours a day before. In Dammam and the governorates of Taif and Al Qatif, the curfew has been brought forward by four hours to combat the spread of coronavirus.
From Friday, the curfews will begin at 3pm instead of 7pm and end at 6am.
The port of Dammam, on the Gulf, is a main entry point for supplies for the oil industry centred in the eastern region and for the rest of the kingdom.
Riyadh and Jeddah have already been sealed off by authorities, barring people from entering and exiting the cities as well as prohibiting movement between all provinces.
Cars in the cities may only carry one passenger to limit transmission of the virus.