Saudi Arabia halts parental visitation rulings to curb virus

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Saudi King suspended final rulings and judicial orders on visitation rights of children of separated parents in the latest effort to try and curb the spread of the novel coronavirus among households, according to state media reports on Wednesday.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency said parents were notified of the changes by text message, the latest measure by the kingdom to stem the rising number of new infections as a nearly nationwide 24-hour curfew takes place.

Saudi Arabia has more than 2,900 confirmed cases of the virus, including 41 deaths. This week, the kingdom began imposing a 24-hour curfew in the capital, Riyadh, and several other cities, including Jeddah and Makkah. It has already barred travel to and from Riyadh, Makkah and Madinah, suspended prayers at mosques and closed Islam’s holiest sites to pilgrims to limit infections.

King Salman on Tuesday also ordered the temporary release from prison of people serving sentences related to unpaid private debts, and ordered the suspension of all rulings related to such cases. The government did not say how many detainees would be affected.

Several Mideast countries are temporarily releasing some non-violent convicts due to concerns that prison conditions could cause a spike in infections.

Sudan released more than 200 prisoners in the Darfur region, the official SUNA news agency reported late Tuesday. They were among more than 4,200 prisoners the transitional government has said would be released to stem the spread of the virus. Sudan, which announced a series of measures including a night-time curfew across the country, has reported 14 cases, including two deaths for the virus.

Saudi media quoted the country’s Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah on Tuesday as warning that between 10,000 to 200,000 people could be infected with the virus in the kingdom within weeks, based on four different expert studies.

People carry the body of a victim who died after being infected with the new coronavirus at a cemetery just outside Tehran, Iran. PHOTO: AP