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Saudi Arabia to re-impose coronavirus curfew as cases surge

Countries fear second coronavirus wave

Saudi Arabia's government will re-impose a 24-hour curfew across the entire country during the five-day Eid Al-Fitr holiday at the end of May in a bid to contain a resurgent coronavirus epidemic. It will be a disappointing return to strict lockdown measures for Saudis, who saw the measures lifted before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on April 24.

Like its fellow countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bahrain and Oman, Saudi Arabia relaxed its coronavirus restrictions ahead of the month of religious fasting. But COVID-19 infections have surged back in recent weeks, forcing the decision to re-impose the curfew for Eid, which marks the end of the holy month.

SAUDI-HEALTH-VIRUS-RAMADAN-ISLAM
A man passes through a self-sterilization gate at an entrance to the Kaaba and the Grand Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Mecca, as a preventive measure amid the the COVID-19 pandemic during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, May 8, 2020. STR/AFP/Getty

"A total curfew will be imposed in all cities and regions across the Kingdom" from May 23 until May 27, the Saudi Ministry of Interior said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency SPA late on Tuesday.

The decision comes after a sharp rise in infections in the kingdom, which now has the largest outbreak in the Gulf region with more than 40,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

During a recent briefing with reporters, Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabia said the uptick in infections over the past two weeks was also the result of an extensive increase in testing by the ministry, aimed at better tracking the coronavirus to curb its spread.

But regardless, with the numbers soaring, Saudi authorities may be forced to officially call off this year's Hajj pilgrimage.

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in RIyadh
A Saudi volunteer supervisor checks the temperature of another volunteer before preparing boxes of Iftar meals provided by a charity organization during the holy month of Ramadan, during a coronavirus outbreak in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 10, 2020. Ahmed Yosri/REUTERS

Last month, the Saudi government Minister for Hajj and Umrah asked Muslims around the world to wait until there's more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic before making Hajj plans. The ritual, which typically draws tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims to the holy city of Mecca and the Prophet Muhammad's mosque in Medina, is due to take place at the end of July.   

The Saudi Health Ministry said Tuesday that the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the country had risen to 42,925, with to 264 deaths attributed to the disease. 

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