Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 27 September 2020

Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia eases lockdown and reopens businesses

Authorities revise restrictions despite increase in the number of cases

Saudi authorities allowed businesses to reopen and eased bans on movement to lessen the economic toll of the coronavirus containment measures despite a continued increase in cases.

The official Saudi Press Agency said King Salman ordered a “transformation to a partial curfew” due to the recommendations of health specialists.

King Salman also issued orders to “reinstate some economic activities, while observing health limits to mitigate [the burden] on citizens and residents".

But a 24-hour curfew will remain in Makkah, one of the hardest-hit urban centres in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia will also continue the suspension of international and domestic flights until further notice, with the exception of emergency cases, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, an interior ministry spokesman said on Sunday.

Train, bus and taxi services also remain suspended and people employed in the state sector will continue working from home, the spokesman told a news conference broadcast on state television.

The kingdom recorded 1,223 new cases of the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, raising the total number to 17,522.

More than 1,000 cases have been recorded every day in Saudi Arabia since April 17, when the number of cases was about 7,000.

The kingdom is the world’s top oil exporter and the only Arab G20 member.

Under the new rules, which are valid for two weeks, a curfew will be introduced for eight hours, from 9am to 5pm, starting today.

In many regions, a curfew had been enforced around the clock.

As of Wednesday, shops and malls, as well as construction companies and contractors, will be allowed to reopen or resume their work.

Restaurants, cinemas and hair salons will remain closed and a ban on groups of more than five people will also be in place.

The government will monitor businesses to make sure they observe precautions related to coronavirus, the news agency said.

Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Al Abdulaali said there could be another 15,000 coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia, as indicated by an app used by 600,000 people in the kingdom to help identify suspected cases.

Saudi Arabia is the latest country in the Arabian Gulf to reduce some bans at the beginning of Ramadan, while maintaining general restrictions on movement and gatherings to limit the spread of Covid-19.

At the weekend, Kuwait's Health Minister Bassel Al Sabah said "it is difficult to ascertain whether work will return to normal" after the end of the Ramadan.

Mr Bassel said the government was constructing a compound with 5,000 beds to serve as a field hospital and quarantine centre.

Omani authorities said the country paid for the return of 3,750 citizens from abroad and announced that the capital, Muscat, would remain sealed off for at least another two weeks.

The country's Ministry of Health announced on Sunday 93 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Sultanate to 1,998.

The Oman News Agency, ONA, quoted the ministry as saying that 10 patients died and 333 had recovered from the virus.

Updated: April 26, 2020 05:45 PM

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