Saudi Arabia urges G20 virtual talk on coronavirus, shuts mosques

Current chair of the group of 20 major economies wants to discuss health emergency next week amid economic worries.

Coronavirus Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia also suspended work in the private sector - except health and food services - for 15 days, state news agency reported [Fayez Nuerline/AFP]

Saudi Arabia plans to convene a virtual summit next week, bringing together the leaders from the Group of 20 major economies (G20) to address the coronavirus pandemic, as it also takes more drastic measures to contain the spread of the illness within the kingdom.

Early on Wednesday, the country announced that mosques would no longer be open for the customary five daily prayers or Friday congregations, following the death of at least 171 coronavirus patients.

It also suspended work in the private sector – except health and food services – for 15 days, the state news agency reported early on Wednesday.

The extraordinary virtual leaders’ summit next week will “put forward a coordinated set of policies to protect people and safeguard the global economy”.

The US-allied Gulf states have registered more than 1,000 cases, many linked to travel to neighbouring Iran, an epicentre for the outbreak in the Middle East.

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Oman, which reported nine new cases for a total of 33, is also closing mosques, restaurants, coffee shops, tourist sites, traditional markets and malls starting from Wednesday at midday. Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open.

It will bar foreigners from entering and nationals from leaving, state television said.

Qatar, with three new cases bringing its total to 442, likewise closed shops not selling food or pharmaceuticals, and closed part of an industrial zone for at least two weeks, a government spokeswoman said.

Saudi Arabia has taken drastic steps to try and slow down the spread of the virus, including suspending the Umrah pilgrimage, halting international flights, and closing schools and most public establishments.

Prayers will continue only at the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, the holiest places in Islam, state news agency SPA reported, citing the kingdom’s top clerical body.

Mosque doors will close, and the ritual call to prayer will direct people to pray at home.

The kingdom previously suspended work for government employees, except in the health, military and security sectors.

The central bank said it had activated business continuity plans and work-from-home measures for financial institutions. The Council of Ministers postponed its regular meetings for two weeks, media reported.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), meanwhile, registered 15 new cases, raising its total to 113.

Source: News Agencies