Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has issued an order to partially lift the curfew in all regions of the kingdom while keeping a 24-hour curfew in Mecca and in previously isolated neighbourhoods, state news agency (SPA) said early on Sunday.
The curfew will be lifted between 9am and 5pm from Sunday onwards, while malls, wholesale and retail shops will be allowed to reopen from the sixth day of Ramadan to the 20th day of the holy month – April 29 to May 13.
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As of Sunday morning, Saudi Arabia recorded 16,299 infections and 136 deaths, the highest among the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
On April 2, Riyadh imposed a 24-hour curfew in the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, extending measures to combat the novel coronavirus.
Saudi Arabia also suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage over fears of the coronavirus spreading to Islam‘s holiest cities.
It is likely the larger Hajj pilgrimage, set for the end of July, will also be cancelled for the first time in modern history after Saudi Arabia urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations.
Last year, about 2.5 million people travelled to Saudi Arabia to take part in the Hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.
Pilgrimage is big business for Saudi Arabia and the backbone of plans to expand visitor numbers under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s ambitious economic reform agenda.
Cancelling the Hajj would be unprecedented in modern times, but curbing attendance from high-risk areas has happened before, including in recent years during the Ebola outbreak.
The Arab world’s biggest economy has also closed down cinemas, malls and restaurants and halted flights as it steps up efforts to contain the virus.
King Salman has warned of a “more difficult” fight ahead against the virus, as the kingdom faces the economic double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.