Saudi Arabia to end virus curfew next month

Updated May 27 2020

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But the kingdom is yet to make any announcement about Haj. — AFP/File
But the kingdom is yet to make any announcement about Haj. — AFP/File

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it would end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in Makkah, after more than two months of stringent curbs.

Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Makkah from May 31, the interior ministry said in a series of measures announced on state media.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, Kuwait and the emirate of Dubai also moved to ease their lockdown measures, which together with a collapse in oil prices have pushed the region into its worst economic crisis in decades.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eidul Fitr.

The ministry said it would begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed from 6am to 3pm between Thursday and Saturday.

But the kingdom is yet to make any announcement about Haj

From Sunday until June 20, the curfew would be further eased until 8pm, the ministry added. The kingdom would lift the lockdown entirely on June 21.

“Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase [in dealing with the pandemic] and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing,” Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday.

Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from Covid-19.

In the United Arab Emirates, which has reported more than 30,000 cases and 248 deaths, authorities in Dubai moved to lift restrictions on businesses and shorten a nighttime curfew from Wednesday when the Eid holiday concludes.

Officials said late on Monday that retail stores, gyms, cinemas and attractions like the dolphinarium will be allowed to reopen under social distancing and disinfection rules.

Kuwait, which has reported some 22,000 cases and 165 deaths, also said that it would end its total curfew this weekend, with reduced measures to be announced later.

Questions over Haj

Saudi Arabia in March suspended the year-round Umrah over fears of the disease spreading in the holy cities of Makkah and Madina. That suspension would remain in place, the interior ministry said.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s Haj, scheduled for late July, but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in Haj.

Makkah’s Grand Mosque has been almost devoid of worshippers since March, with an eerie emptiness surrounding the sacred Ka’aba.

But on Sunday, the first day of Eid, prayers went ahead and an imam stood on a podium while Saudi security forces, some wearing masks, positioned themselves between rows of worshippers, their prayer mats placed in well-spaced arcs.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2020