Saudi Arabia imposes 24-hour curfew in Mekkah and Medina

Saudi Arabia imposed a 24-hour curfew in the Muslim holy cities of Mekkah and Medina on Thursday, extending measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 1,700 people in the kingdom and killed 16.

The interior ministry said in a statement there were some exceptions, including for essential workers and in order for residents to buy food and access medical care. Cars in those cities  residential districts may only carry one passenger to limit the virus  transmission, it said.

The country of 30 million has taken drastic steps to contain the disease, halting international flights, closing most public places, and suspending the year-round umrah pilgrimage. On Tuesday, it asked Muslims to put plans for the annual haj pilgrimage on hold pending more clarity about the pandemic.

Restrictions on movement have tightened, with entry and exit to Riyadh, Mekkah, Medina and Jeddah heavily restricted. Some neighbourhoods in Mekkah and Medina were already under full lockdown, but in the rest of those cities the curfew was previously from 1500 to 0600.

The eastern oil-producing province of Qatif, where the kingdom s first coronavirus cases were reported last month among Shi ite Muslim pilgrims returning from Iran, has been on lockdown for nearly four weeks.

Saudi Arabia has the most infections and deaths among the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, but public health officials say past experience combating the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) helped prepare the kingdom for the new coronavirus outbreak.

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