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Coronavirus: Saudi royal hospital 'shutting down' after doctor tests for virus

Sources inside Riyadh's King Faisal Hospital describe scenes of 'chaos', with at least 12 confirmed cases, and King Salman isolated at his palace
King Salman addressed Saudis in a heavily edited television broadcast on Thursday (AFP)

Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal Hospital, where members of the royal family, including King Salman, are treated, has been closed to all but emergency cases after a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus, medical sources in the hospital told Middle East Eye on Friday.

The hospital, one of the biggest in the country with about 1,000 beds, will remain closed to most patients until at least Tuesday, after the female anaesthetist had exposure to colleagues and patients.

The woman collapsed during a procedure and is suspected of having picked up the virus from a domestic worker at her home, sources told MEE.

Staff in the anaesthesiology department have been isolated at their homes and are being monitored.

As many as 12 people inside the hospital have tested positive for the virus, but the exact number is not known because testing is limited, a medical source inside the hospital told MEE.

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A hospital entrance in Riyadh on 15 March (AFP)

All but four hospital entrances have been closed and guards are monitoring everyone who goes in and out.

A source said: “They have halted all routine treatment of patients, which is crippling for a hospital this size. It is one of the biggest and most prestigious in Saudi.

“The hospital is only dealing with emergency admissions and it is chaos in here because no one knows who is infected and what to do.”

When contacted by MEE, the hospital confirmed that it would start shutting down non-emergency services from Sunday. Routine appointments are not scheduled for Friday and Saturday as it is the weekend.

'They have halted all routine treatment of patients, which is crippling for a hospital this size'

- King Faisal Hospital source

Some emergency services are also being withdrawn and patients are being contacted about the situation.

The hospital has a special wing for treating members of the royal family, particularly the king and his brothers.

Officially there have been 274 cases of infection and no fatalities so far in the kingdom, according to the latest figures provided by the Ministry of Health on Thursday.

But the real infection rate is many times higher than that, according to medical sources in Riyadh.

All internal flights, train travel and taxis have been cancelled for two weeks.

On Thursday, King Salman appeared on television to deliver a statement on the coronavirus. In a heavily edited broadcast, he read from a script to deliver a message of reassurance to Saudis.

“The strength, steadfastness, determination that you have demonstrated during the honourable defiance of this difficult phase, and your full cooperation with relevant government agencies, are the most important contributing factors and pillars of the success of the state’s efforts, which has prioritised safeguarding health and made it the state's top concern,” he said.

“Therefore, rest assured that we are very keen on providing the necessary medication, food and living necessities for citizens and residents of this blessed land.”

The king, who is 84 and suffers from dementia, appeared to be in good health. MEE understands he has been isolated in his palace and has received visits from Chinese specialists on the coronavirus.

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