Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia faces 'critical moment' in dealing with the pandemic

The kingdom tightens lockdown amid official warnings of up to 200,000 cases if bans on movement not observed

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Saudi authorities strengthened strict bans on movement on Tuesday as the kingdom's top health official said coronavirus infections could soon spike to 200,000 due to lack of compliance.
Government tracking data shows 2,795 recorded coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia, the epicentre of world oil exports, and 41 confirmed deaths from the pandemic.
Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah cited four studies by Saudi and foreign specialists that predict cases rising in the kingdom from anything between 10,000 to 200,000 in the next few weeks, depending on the public's observance of public health measures.

"There is no doubt that if we commit to instructions to the letter, cases will reach their minimum while non-compliance will result in a steep increase in casualties," Mr Al Rabiah told reporters in Riyadh.
He said that while social distancing and the lockdown are generally being observed, too many people are not taking the coronavirus dangers seriously.
"More measures need to be taken to protect society from those people," Mr Al Rabiah said. "We are at a critical juncture that requires a rising to responsibility as a society."

The Interior Ministry later announced new restrictions in areas where restrictions fall short of a 24-hour lockdown.
The ministry said in a statement that a window of movement in those regions has been narrowed to a period between six in the morning to three in the afternoon. Residents are allowed to leave their homes only for medical or food needs inside their neighbourhoods.


The authorities on Monday imposed 24-hour curfews on Riyadh, Tabuk, Dammam, Dhahran and Hofuf as well as the whole Jeddah, Taif, Qatif and Khobar governorates. Several major Saudi cities have already been sealed off in the last two weeks.

Government data shows that road traffic was down only 46 per cent compared to normal days before the outbreak.

The kingdom's first coronavirus cases were first reported in the eastern oil-producing province of Qatif, among pilgrims returning from Iran. The province was sealed off four weeks ago.

Recorded cases continued to rise across the Arab Gulf, with Kuwait announcing 78 new infections, and curfews extended in several areas. Total cases in Kuwait stand at 743.

Oman confirmed that coronavirus infections rose by 40 on Tuesday to 371 cases. The Health Ministry said the death toll remains at two, urging the public “not to leave home except when necessary”.

The UAE extended the closure of all businesses classed as "non-essential" in the commercial hub of Dubai until April 18. Prompted by the pandemic, the Cabinet approved the formation of a new state organisation to streamline supplies and the volunteer effort.