Saudi Arabia has imposed a 24-hour curfew in the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, extending measures to combat the novel coronavirus, while other Gulf Arab states locked down districts with large migrant worker populations.
The Saudi interior ministry stipulated exceptions, including for essential workers and for residents allowed to buy food and access medical care. Cars may only carry one passenger.
Saudi Arabia has recorded 1,885 infections and 21 deaths, the most in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
It has already halted international flights, suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage, closed most public places, and heavily restricted internal movement.
On state TV on Tuesday, the Minister for Hajj and Umrah, Mohammed Saleh Benten, asked Muslims to defer preparations for the annual Hajj pilgrimage scheduled in late July due to the pandemic.
Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world usually flock to Mecca and Medina cities for the week-long ritual. The pilgrimage is also a significant source of income for the kingdom.
The eastern oil-producing province of Qatif, where the kingdom’s first coronavirus cases were reported among Shia Muslim pilgrims returning from Iran, has been on lockdown for nearly four weeks.
Entry and exit to Riyadh, Mecca, Medina and Jeddah is limited.
Some neighbourhoods in Mecca and Medina were already under full lockdown, but in the rest of those cities, the curfew was previously from 3pm to 6am.
Migrant worker districts locked down
In other Gulf Arab states, lockdowns targeted neighbourhoods with large numbers of low-wage foreign labourers.
Kuwait’s health minister said authorities were considering sealing off some areas after Qatar announced late on Wednesday that it was extending a lockdown on an industrial area and after Oman closed off Muttrah, home to one of the sultanate’s oldest markets.
Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday sealed off Al Ras, an area famous for its gold and spice souqs and where many migrant workers reside.
Millions of migrant workers, mainly from Asian countries like Nepal, India and the Philippines, are among the large expatriate population in the six Gulf states, where confirmed infections have risen to above 4,700, with 36 deaths.
Bahrain’s health ministry reported 66 new cases on Thursday, all in the industrial zone of Salmabad.
“The expat labourers had been under precautionary quarantine in their residence and yesterday were placed in a dedicated quarantine facility and there is no outbreak among labourers,” it said.
Oman’s health minister said the coastal commercial district of Muttrah was sealed off due to the discovery of a community spread of the virus.
“Such decisions are not easily taken … but it is for the public good,” state media quoted him as saying.
Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday that it was working to enable foreign residents to return home even as passenger flights remain suspended.
In mid- March, Qatar reported a majority of coronavirus cases being located in what is called the Industrial Area, a commercial hub outside the capital Doha where many of its migrant workers live.
The area was put under complete lockdown to help curb the outbreak.