Saudis tighten anti-virus curfew; UAE closures leave travellers stranded

RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia reported its second coronavirus death and tightened a nationwide curfew on Wednesday, barring travel in and out of Riyadh, the capital, and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as well as movement between all provinces.

A Saudi man walks past a poster depicting Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, after a curfew was imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

The orders, approved by King Salman and published by state media, also brought forward the start of a curfew in the three cities to 3 p.m. from 7 p.m., starting Thursday.

Saudi Arabia introduced the curfew on Monday, initially for 21 days, after registering a jump in infections. Its second fatality was a 46-year-old foreign resident of Mecca, among 133 new cases that took Saudi Arabia’s total to 900.

Across the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, the tally rose to 2,472 with seven deaths, as the United Arab Emirates registered 85 new infections, Oman 15 and Kuwait four.

Saudi Arabia has halted international flights as well as suspending visas for the year-round Umrah pilgrimage and closing mosques, schools, malls and restaurants.

The restrictions have altered the rhythm of daily life in the country of some 30 million, where late-night gatherings at coffee shops or private homes are common.

Turkish resident Nasif Erisik, who plays cards most nights with friends at one of their homes, said the group had resorted to online gaming to keep in touch. “Corona has ... changed our habits and everything in our lives,” Erisik said.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The authorities say those who violate restrictions will be fined or jailed. The Interior Ministry on Wednesday reported high compliance.


In the UAE, the region’s tourism, business and transit hub, 64 people were facing legal action for not obeying a 14-day home quarantine order after coming into contact with people confirmed to be infected, the government tweeted.

The UAE said it will close all public transport from 8 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Thursday to 6 a.m. on Sunday as it disinfects all public facilities, state news agency WAM said. Movement of traffic and people would be restricted and people were urged to stay home unless they needed food, medicine or healthcare, or if they worked in vital sectors, it said.

Hundreds of Europeans were stranded in the UAE after the Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports stopped flights on Tuesday night with little warning.

Oil engineer Jamie Richardson had been due to return to Britain on Wednesday for a new job. “It’s proper stressful,” he said. “You have no idea what’s going on.”

UAE authorities have urged people to stay home but have not announced an official curfew or suspended work.

On Wednesday the business regulator in Dubai, one of the member-emirates, told private companies to implement remote working for 80% of staff through April 9.

Pharmacies, grocery stores, supermarkets and cooperative societies were exempted. It later clarified that some other sectors, including banking, industrial and manufacturing, construction, logistics and delivery were also exempt.

Food shops were told to stay open 24 hours a day but not exceed 30% customer capacity, to be able to maintain a 2-metre (6-foot) distance between shoppers.

Organisers of the Expo 2020 Dubai world fair, scheduled to start in October and expected to draw 11 million overseas visitors, confirmed one coronavirus case among staff and said they were reviewing their preparations.

Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Alexander Cornwell; Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Alaa Swilam, Lisa Barrington, Ghaida Ghantous and Yousef Saba in Dubai, and Marwa Rashad and Reuters TV in Riyadh; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Alex Richardson and Leslie Adler