Riyadh, March 23 (AFP/APP): Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has announced a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew from Monday in a bid to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, the latest in a series of restrictions.
The curfew — from 7 pm until 6 am — will be imposed for 21 days, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a royal order.
The move comes after Saudi Arabia on Sunday said the number of COVID-19 cases had jumped to 511, the highest in the Gulf. The kingdom has reported no deaths so far.
Health sector employees, as well as security and military officials, will be exempt from the curfew restrictions, the royal order said.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman warned on Thursday of a “more difficult” fight ahead against the virus, as the kingdom faces the double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.
The Arab world’s biggest economy has shut down cinemas, malls and restaurants, halted flights and suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage as it steps up efforts to contain the deadly virus.
Last week, the kingdom unveiled stimulus measures amounting to 120 Saudi billion riyals ($32 billion) to support businesses and said it plans to raise borrowing to 50 percent of GDP.
Saudi Arabia has also suspended prayers inside all its mosques except the holiest two sites in Islam in Mecca and Medina, a sensitive move in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.
The world’s top crude exporter faces plunging oil prices, the mainstay of government revenue, which have slipped to around $25 a barrel to touch multi-year lows on the back of sagging demand due to the virus and a price war with Russia.
More than 1,300 coronavirus infections have been detected in the Gulf region, with most cases initially identified among travelers returning from Iran which is one of the world’s worst-affected countries.