Authorities in Saudi Arabia, on Thursday imposed a 24-hour daily curfew on the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina, in a move aimed at combating the spread of coronavirus, with more than 1,700 people infected in the kingdom and 16 people killed.
The Interior Ministry in a statement said there were some exceptions for essential workers and residents to buy food and access medical care.
“Cars in the cities’ residential districts may only carry one passenger to limit the virus transmission, ” it said.
Saudi Arabia, with a population of 30 million, has taken drastic steps to contain the disease, halting international flights, closing most public places and suspending the year-round Umrah Pilgrimage.
On Tuesday, the government asked Muslims to put plans for the annual hajj pilgrimage on hold, pending more clarity about the pandemic.
Restrictions on movement have tightened, with entry and exit to Riyadh, Mecca, Medina and Jeddah heavily restricted.
Some neighbourhoods in Mecca and Medina were already under full lockdown, but in the rest of those cities, the curfew was previously from 3.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m.
The eastern oil-producing province of Qatif, where the kingdom’s first coronavirus cases were reported last month among Shi’ite Muslim pilgrims returning from Iran, has been on lockdown for nearly four weeks.
Saudi Arabia has the most infections and deaths among the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council.
But public health officials say past experience combating the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) helped prepare the kingdom for the new coronavirus outbreak.