Saudi Arabia decided on Thursday to impose a 24-hour curfew on the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as part of the kingdom’s measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the official state agency reported.
According to an official at the Saudi Ministry of Interior, authorities are set to implement a full-day curfew on Mecca and Medina, but adult residents will be allowed to leave their homes for urgent medical care and food supplies between 6am and 3pm.
The decision, effective from Thursday and “until further notice”, excludes those working in vital institutions in the public and private sectors in accordance with a previous royal decree.
“It is prohibited to practise any commercial activities within the residential neighbourhoods of the cities of Mecca and Medina, except for pharmacies, foodstuff stores, gas stations and banking services,” Thursday’s decree said.
The decision added that only one passenger in addition to the driver will be allowed in each motor vehicle moving within the two cities, to limit the possible transmission of the virus.
On 25 March, Saudi Arabia announced a countrywide lockdown that included banning entry and exit from Mecca, Medina and Riyadh as well as a ban on movement between the thirteen provinces of the kingdom.
The novel virus, also known as Covid-19, has infected more than 1,700 people in the kingdom and killed 16.
Saudi Arabia, home to 30 million people, has implemented drastic measures since the beginning of the outbreak, including suspension of international flights, closing schools and universities, and closing off the eastern region of Qatif, where most of the initial cases were reported.
It had also suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage and banned prayers in all its mosques, including the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina.
On Wednesday, the minister of Hajj and Umrah, said on state TV that Muslims are urged to wait until there is more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic before planning to attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world usually flock to the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long ritual, which is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim and a major source of income for the kingdom.
The oil-rich kingdom has unveiled economic stimulus measures amounting to 120bn riyals ($32bn) to support businesses, and said it planned to raise borrowing to 50 percent of GDP in efforts to sustain an economy hit by the pandemic