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Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia extends curfew indefinitely

Move follows sudden spike in infections in the kingdom
Major cities including capital Riyadh have been under 24-hour lockdown since last week (AFP)

Saudi Arabia is to extend a nationwide curfew until further notice, the interior ministry said on Sunday, as the kingdom reported a sharp spike in infections from coronavirus.

Last week the capital Riyadh and other big cities were placed under a 24-hour curfew to stem the spread of the virus.

The country of some 30 million people has recorded 4,033 infections with 52 deaths, the highest among the six Gulf Arab States.

But 300 news cases have been reported on each of the last four days.

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The kingdom has halted international flights, suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage, and closed most public places. Other Gulf states have taken similar precautions.

The interior ministry said all precautionary measures across Saudi Arabia's 13 regions remain in place.

The eastern Qatif region, where its first coronavirus cases were reported among Shia Muslim pilgrims returning from Iran, has been sealed off since 8 March.

Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah warned on Tuesday the virus could eventually infect between 10,000 and 200,000 people in the kingdom.

Berating some Saudis' response to the crisis, Rabiah urged the public to adhere more closely to state directives against mixing and movement.

"We stand today at a decisive moment as a society in raising our sense of responsibility and contributing together with determination to stop the spread of this pandemic," he said.

Rabiah said the 24-hour curfews imposed last week, were needed because some were not taking the danger of infection seriously but were leaving their homes and gathering in groups.

King Salman approved another 7bn riyals ($1.86bn) for the health ministry to combat the disease, and another $8.5bn could be disbursed before the end of the year, Rabiah added.