Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia uses military police to enforce lockdown

Cases in the kingdom near 34,000 as authorities raise fines to force people to comply with containment measures

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Saudi Arabia deployed military police to the north-west and reiterated a ban on gatherings of more than five with large fines for violators, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday, as ten more died of Covid-19.

The ministry reiterated that, as per royal decrees, it would be handing out fines of up to 100,000 Saudi Riyals (Dh9,700) for any form of non-family gathering of more than 5 people and that repeat offences would see the amounts increase.

It also said that a dedicated force of police was being established to enforce the new rules.

The kingdom also deployed military police to the country’s north-west region of Tabuk to help local officials enforce the nationwide curfew to stop the spread of coronavirus as authorities call on people to stop violating the order.

A Interior Ministry spokesman said police units have been ordered to implement a new fines regime announced on Wednesday. Shortly after the announcement, police in Al Qassim said they had made two arrests for violations.

The Health Ministry said it registered 1,793 new cases on Thursday, bringing the number of people who have been infected in the kingdom with the coronavirus to 33,731. The death toll now stands at 219.

Under the new regulations, violators of curfew measures could be fined up to 100,000 riyals and spend a year in prison. The fine and jail term would double for flouting quarantine orders.

Since the start of Ramadan, the Saudi government has allowed some shops and businesses to reopen but kept bans on assembly and restrictions on movement.

Countries across the Arabian Gulf have been easing restrictions.

Bahrain was the latest Gulf country to relax its closure policies this week.  The government also launched a coronavirus information service via WhatsApp. Users can chat with specialists if they have questions and donate to a government fund.

Oman announced 55 new cases on Thursday, bring total cases in the sultanate to 2,958. Thirteen people in the country have been recorded as having died from the coronavirus.

Kuwait recorded two more deaths, raising the number of people who died to 44 among 6,567 official cases.

The coronavirus pandemic will necessitate a rethink of the economic models in the region, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.

Dr Anwar Gargash told a Beirut Institute Summit panel that the Arabian Gulf, "like all regions of the world, will be financially and politically weaker and we would be wise to think about its development models."