RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Thursday declared a 24-hour curfew in all parts of the holy cities of Makkah and Medina cities as part of measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“The 24-hour curfew will be imposed in all parts of the cities of Makkah and Medina, with a ban on entry and exit from both cities,” the Saudi Interior Ministry said on Twitter.
The curfew started from Thursday “until further notice”.
All commercial activities inside the residential neighborhoods of the two cities were also prohibited, except for pharmacies, food products stores, gas stations and banking services, the ministry said.
The announcement comes amid uncertainty over Hajj which is due to take place at the end of July, after authorities this week urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.
The holy cities were earlier under a 15-hour daily curfew. Moreover, the local authorities had already banned people from entering and exiting the cities as well as prohibiting movement between all provinces.
Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of infections in the Gulf, is scrambling to limit the spread of the disease at home. On Thursday, the health ministry said that the deaths from the illness had risen to 21 while 1,885 infections were reported.
Last month, Saudi Arabia had suspended Umrah over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading to Islam’s holiest cities.
Saudi Arabia’s Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has also 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.