Makkah residents say government should be ‘praised’ for handling of coronavirus

Saudi Arabia has taken harsh measures in curbing the spread of the disease as it records over 46,000 cases

A small group of worshippers pray at Kaaba in the Grand Mosque while practicing social distancing, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during the holy month of Ramadan, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 4, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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Residents in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Makkah said on Friday the kingdom must be praised for setting an ‘honourable’ example in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia, which has a population of around 30 million, took serious measures against the deadly outbreak from the outset by shutting its borders, imposing curfews and lockdowns across the country and introducing economic stimulus plans worth billions of riyals.

The country so far has 46,869 confirmed cases and 286 deaths.

"People living in Makkah knew that the measures imposed by the government were made for their best interests and that other countries around the world also took similar procedures," a resident of the city, who chose to remain anonymous, told The National.

Most residents have adhered to strict quarantine polices issued by the authorities to limit the spread of the virus in the city, which is considered to be one of the hardest-hit urban centres in the kingdom.

“The biggest proof of their acceptance was seen on the television when the empty streets of the city were broadcasted,” he said.

The resident said the lockdown measures has had a “negative impact on children as their studies were disturbed and they were forced to sit at home.”

“But staying home has made people appreciate their loved ones and see the value of a mother and a housewife,” he said.

Less traffic has also had a "positive impact on the environment,” he said.

Gofran AlShreef said the city has seen an increase in the number of foreign expats who do not have a valid residency or work permits.

“Some of the illegal expatriates did not follow the precautionary measures set which led the government to enforce strict policies on the city,” Ms Al Shreef said.

Government authorities have also taken harsh measures against individuals who are spreading fake news about the virus, she said.

“The situation in Makkah is very sensitive and delicate,” Ms Al Shreef said. The government eased some restriction of its curfew in other cities but not in Makkah.

A 24-hour curfew has remained in the city since last month.

At the beginning of Ramadan, Saudi Arabia eased lockdowns and allowed shops and factories to reopen, citing the social nature of the holy month and the need to resume at least part of the economic cycle in the country.

The Saudi Interior Ministry said this week that lockdown measures would be tightened again, with a resumption of curfews across the country during the Eid holidays from May 23 to May 27.

Authorities will enforce a countrywide 24-hour curfew during the five-day Eid holidays.

It means that Makkah occupants will celebrate Eid virtually this year with their families and loved ones.

One Saudi family shared their plans with The National. "The family will gather on a zoom call and will play multiple activities, the winner will win a prize of 500 Saudi riyals," said a member of the family.

"Due to the isolation measures we look forward to reviving the festive atmosphere," she said.

Saudi Arabia would usually be about to host the Hajj - the annual pilgrimage to Makkah, which is an essential pillar of Islamic practice. The kingdom is yet to announce whether it has been cancelled this year due to the virus.

In March authorities suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage, during which worshippers circle the Kaaba seven times, and closed the area around the religious site.