CAIRO (REUTERS) – Saudi Arabia suspended on Friday (March 20) all domestic flights, buses, taxis and trains for 14 days starting Saturday, state news agency reported quoting a source in interior ministry.
The source said the move comes as a precautionary measure to limit the spread of coronavirus which has spread panic in global markets and put several countries on virtual lockdowns.
Saudi Arabia has so far confirmed 274 infections and no deaths, while globally the pandemic has killed nearly 10,000 and infected over 240,000.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman spoke publicly on Thursday for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak, saying the kingdom will take measures to curb its spread and urged citizens to work together to confront the pandemic.
“We are living through a difficult period in the history of the world, but we are fully aware that it will pass despite its cruelty, bitterness and difficulty,” the 84-year-old monarch said in a five-minute televised address. He urged people to act with solidarity and cooperation and to adhere to official directives.
The kingdom has taken drastic measures already, including halting international flights, suspending the Umrah year-round pilgrimage to Mecca, closing mosques, schools, malls and restaurants, and asking people to stop going to work. It has also suspended Muslims from conducting their five daily prayers and the weekly Friday prayer in the overflow area just outside the walls of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Amid volatility in regional markets and plunging oil prices, the world’s top crude exporter has prepared a 50 billion riyal (S$19.26 billion) package to help small- and medium-sized enterprises cope, and has cut its state budget by nearly 5 per cent.
De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s son and heir apparent, has talked by phone with several foreign leaders but not spoken publicly since the country went into virtual lockdown last weekend. The government has halted its regular Cabinet meetings.