Saudi reimposes virus lockdown on Jeddah

RIYADH (AFP) – Saudi Arabia on Friday announced a renewed lockdown in the city of Jeddah, gateway to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah, to counter a new spike in coronavirus cases.

“After reviewing the epidemiological situation and the high occupancy rates of intensive care departments, it was decided to take strict health precautions in the city of Jeddah for two weeks,” starting yesterday, the health ministry said.

The measures include a curfew from 3pm to 6am, a suspension of prayers in mosques and a stay-at-home order for public and private sector workers in the Red Sea city whose airport serves Makkah pilgrims.

After an easing of precautions in the kingdom in late May, the ministry said that strict measures could also soon return to Riyadh, which was “witnessing a continuous increase during the last days” of critical cases of the pandemic.

Saudi Arabia has declared almost 96,000 coronavirus infections and 642 deaths from the COVID-19 respiratory disease, the heaviest toll in the region. It has suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading to Islam’s holiest cities.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s haj, scheduled for the end of July, but have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the
annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in the haj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.

Women shopping at a mall in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia announced a renewed lockdown in the city of Jeddah to counter a new spike in coronavirus cases. PHOTO: AFP