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Coronavirus: Saudi king grants $2.4bn to private-sector employees

Some 60 percent of salaries to be paid by the government as kingdom seeks ways to protect employment during lockdown
Saudi King Salman speaking during a televised speech on 19 March, addressing the nation about the coronavirus pandemic (AFP)

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has ordered up to 9 billion riyals ($2.4bn) in financial support to be given to private-sector workers affected by the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.

The funds will be used to pay part of the employees' wages and deter companies from laying off staff, state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on Friday.

The move followed an emergency stimulus package that was announced last month to bolster the kingdom’s economy.

More than 1.2 million Saudi citizens are expected to benefit from the programme, which will kick off this month. 

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"Instead of terminating the employment of a Saudi citizen, the employer has the right to ask social insurance to disburse as compensation 60 percent of his salary over a period of three months, with a maximum limit of 9 thousand riyals (per employee) and with a total value of up to 9 billion riyals," the SPA reported, citing a royal order.

The stimulus announced last month by Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan included 70 billion riyals to be set aside to help businesses, with measures including exemptions and postponements of some government fees and taxes.

Saudi Arabia has enforced strict lockdowns and curfews in an attempt to battle the coronavirus outbreak. On Tuesday, the death toll rose to 21 people, with the kingdom placing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina on 24-hour curfew.

Riyadh has already suspended the Umrah pilgrimage, which is popularly undertaken at this time of year, and serious doubts about July's major Hajj pilgrimage have been raised.

Earlier this week, the Saudi government asked prospective pilgrims to suspend their plans and bookings for Hajj, a pilgrimage that all Muslims are expected to undertake at least once in their lives.

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