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Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia to ban entry and exit from Riyadh, Mecca and Medina

New measures include movement bans between the kingdom's thirteen regions to prevent the spread of Covid-19
An empty street pictured on 24 March in the Saudi capital Riyadh after a curfew was imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia will impose a countrywide lockdown from Thursday and will ban entry and exit from Mecca, Medina and Riyadh in new measures aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus, the state news agency announced on Wednesday. 

“Residents of the thirteen provinces of the kingdom will be banned from leaving them or moving to other areas,” an official statement published by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said. 

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“Entry and exit from the cities of Riyadh, Mecca and Medina will be banned in accordance with the limits defined by the competent authorities,” it added.

The measures will take effect from 3pm on Thursday until the end of the curfew that began on Monday and was planned to last for 21 days. 

The new decision, ratified by King Salman, adds four hours to the curfew, which will now start at 3pm instead of 7pm. 

Second death reported

Saudi Arabia confirmed its first coronavirus-related death on Tuesday, a 51-year-old Afghan resident who succumbed to Covid-19 in Medina. 

A second death was reported on Wednesday, a 46-year-old foreign resident of Mecca. The Gulf country also announced on Wednesday 133 new cases, brining the total number of confirmed infections to 900.

The country had already imposed drastic measures to combat the pandemic, including suspension of international flights, closing schools and universities and temporarily closing off the eastern province of Qatif, which has most of the country's cases.

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

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. 

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.