June 22, 2020 / 11:24 AM / 23 days ago

'Life is back once again': Saudi Arabia lifts three-month curfew

RIYADH (Reuters) - People in Saudi Arabia ventured out on Sunday night for the first time in three months to celebrate the end of a nationwide coronavirus curfew, dining out, cruising on motorcycles and walking pets after the daytime heat subsided.

A Saudi family wearing protective face masks walk on Tahlia Street as nightlife kicks off, after the government loosened lockdown restrictions following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 21, 2020. Picture taken June 21, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

The kingdom introduced stringent measures in March to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, including 24-hour curfews in most towns and cities, with most people only allowed out for essential shopping or urgent medical reasons.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported more than 157,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,267 deaths, began a phased easing of restrictions on movement and business activity in May and lifted its curfew rules entirely on Sunday.

“As soon as we heard that the curfew is over, we immediately contacted the guys to go out,” said Hesham Mahros, among a group of Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders returning to their city centre haunt in the capital Riyadh.

“Life is back once again, it’s a different feeling.”

Some restaurants put on musical performances to mark the occasion.

“We were so happy, from the bottom of our hearts... We sang with our customers and we had fun and celebrated the return of normal life in Riyadh and hopefully for the whole world soon, God willing,” said Ahmad Moaead, a waiter at Alkofeah restaurant.

Some restrictions remain in place, including a ban on social gatherings of more than 50 people. The country’s borders are still closed to international travel and the Islamic umrah pilgrimage remains suspended.

For many, being able to enjoy the evening breeze was enough.

“My daughter used to drive me mad during the curfew period. She would wake up crying and wanting to go out,” said a Saudi woman who identified herself as Um Dana, or mother of Dana.

“Thank God, today I feel like we just woke up from a nightmare.”

Reporting by Nael Sheyoukhi and Mohammed Benmansour; writing by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Gareth Jones

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