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Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia confirms first death as cases spike

The 51-year-old Afghan resident died in the city of Medina on Monday night after being admitted to hospital
Medical vehicles to be used as field hospitals for Covid-19 parked in the parking lot of the King Fahd Medical City in Riyadh, 23 March (AFP)

Saudi Arabia confirmed its first coronavirus-related death on Tuesday, a day after King Salman had introduced a 21-day "dawn to dusk" curfew following a spike in coronavirus cases inside the kingdom. 

In a televised news conference, Mohammed Abdelali, a health ministry spokesperson, confirmed that the 51-year-old Afghan resident had died in Medina from Covid-19. 

Abdelali said that the man's health deteriorated after reporting to a hospital emergency room in the city, where he died on Monday night. 

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The Saudi Press Agency said health workers, security and military officials would be exempt from the curfew, according to the royal order. 

The move is part of a series of measures taken by authorities to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

Saudi Arabia on Sunday said the number of Covid-19 cases had risen to 511, the highest in the Gulf region, but had reported no deaths so far.

No details were given on where exactly most of the Covid-19 cases had been confirmed.

'Difficult' fight ahead

Middle East Eye reported on Friday that Riyadh's King Faisal Hospital, where members of the royal family are treated, was being closed down for all but emergency cases after an anaesthetist working at the hospital had tested positive for the virus. 

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King Salman warned last week of a "difficult" fight ahead, with the kingdom facing mass shutdowns because of the virus and crashing oil prices. 

The oil-rich kingdom unveiled economic stimulus measures amounting to 120bn riyals ($32bn) to support businesses and said it planned to raise borrowing to 50 percent of GDP.

Saudi Arabia had already introduced a series of measures to combat Covid-19, including shutting down cinemas, restaurants and shopping centres throughout the country.  

It had also halted flights, suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage and banned prayers in all its mosques, except the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina