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Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia issues travel ban and threatens fines

The Saudi kingdom said it would fine people who hide their travel history up to 500,000 Saudi Riyals
Local authorities said the majority of cases in Saudi Arabia had come from the Qatif province (AFP)

Saudi Arabia has suspended travel to several countries to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus after it threatened to fine citizens for hiding their health details and travel history at entry points across the country. 

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The Gulf kingdom temporarily suspended travel on Monday to Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, South Korea, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. 

The ban was later extended to include France, Germany, Spain and Turkey according to a statement released by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry told the SPA state news agency that any individual who had visited the banned countries within 14 days before travelling to Saudi Arabia will not be allowed to enter. 

This travel ban comes after Saudi Arabia said it would fine any citizen or resident 500,000 Saudi Riyals ($133,000) who failed to disclose health information and travel details at entry points. 

Saudi Arabia's health ministry said at least 15 people have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus, with the vast majority coming from the Qatif province. 

Other measures taken by Riyadh include a temporary lockdown on Qatif, the country's oil-producing province.

The kingdom said most of the individuals with coronavirus had returned from Iran or Iraq - home to Shia shrines - or interacted with people who visited the Islamic Republic. Qatif has a large Shia population.

"All the travellers coming to the kingdom by international flights, managers and workers of other transportation means they have to respect local and international health directives," the kingdom's public prosecutor said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia has also banned food in mosques and suspended all schools until further notice, according to the Al Arabiya news agency. 

The chief Imam of the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Sheikh Abdul Rahman Sudais, on Sunday night said that "things will return [to normal] within days" but did not confirm whether Saudi Arabia will suspend its ban on pilgrims visiting the cities of Mecca and Medina.