Saudi virus deaths top 1,000 as infections spike

The number of coronavirus deaths in Saudi Arabia surpassed 1,000 on Monday, the health ministry said, amid a new surge in infections just weeks ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage.

The death toll climbed to 1,011 as the total number of infections rose to 132,048, the highest in the Gulf, according to data from the ministry.

The kingdom has seen infections spike after it eased stringent lockdown measures, with the number of daily cases exceeding 4,000 for the second day in a row on Monday.

Intensive care units in the cities of Riyadh and Jeddah are crowded with coronavirus patients, putting pressure on the health care system, two medical sources told AFP.

Earlier this month, the kingdom announced a renewed lockdown in the city of Jeddah, gateway to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, to counter the jump in cases.

The measures include a curfew running from 3 pm to 6 am, 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 pilgrims.

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

The kingdom has said the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina will remain suspended over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading in Islam s holiest cities.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year s hajj, 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 hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.

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