Saudi imposes 24-hour virus curfew in holy cities



An aerial view shows an empty white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba in Mecca's Grand Mosque on March 6th, where strict measures have been taken to protect against novel coronavirus (COVID-19). [Bandar al-Dandani/AFP]

Saudi Arabia on Thursday (April 2nd) extended curfew restrictions on Islam's two holiest cities to 24 hours to stem the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as the number of deaths from the disease rose to 21.

The announcement comes amid uncertainty over the 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.

"Full 24-hour curfew in Mecca and Medina starting from today until further notice," the Saudi Press Agency reported, citing an interior ministry source.

The cities were earlier under a 15-hour daily curfew.

Authorities have already sealed off Mecca and Medina along with Riyadh and Jeddah, barring 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 the deaths from the illness had risen to 21, while 1,885 infections were reported.

Last month, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading to Islam's holiest cities.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj.

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