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Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia suspends most private sector attendance for 15 days

The decision applies to company headquarters and excludes vital food and medical industries
Billboard in Saudi capital Riyadh advising people to wash their hands for 40 seconds as a precaution against Covid-19 (AFP)

Saudi Arabia is suspending attendance in all private sector headquarters for 15 days except for vital industries, as part of the kingdom’s efforts to contain the novel coronavirus, the ministry of human resources said on Wednesday. 

According to a statement by the ministry, all private sector companies have been asked to suspend the attendance of their employees at their headquarters for 15 days, but other branches will be allowed to have up to 40 percent of their staff in attendance to guarantee the minimum operation of supply chains. 

The above provision excludes activities related to food and medical supplies. 

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Institutions that have more than 50 employees in attendance will be required to measure their temperature upon arrival and to ask them if they suffer any symptoms related to Covid-19.

The ministry also said that any gyms or nurseries at private companies must be closed. 

It encouraged companies to activate working remotely using communication technology.

Additionally, the ministry offered “compulsory 14-day leave” for the following categories: pregnant women or those who breastfeed, those suffering respiratory illnesses, those with immunity problems, tumours, chronic diseases, and workers above the age of 55.

Drastic measures

The move is the latest in a series of drastic measures by Saudi authorities to combat the outbreak, including flight suspensions, school and university closures, and suspension of government work except for vital ministries.  

On Tuesday, Saudi authorities said worship will continue at the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina but congregational and weekly Friday prayers at others have been suspended in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The kingdom's Council of Senior Scholars said on Tuesday that the muezzins, persons who perform the Muslim call for prayer, would continue to make the adhan at all mosques, despite the ban on congregational prayers.

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The council called on citizens to abide by the instructions issued by the authorities, saying risks associated with the coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, increase with mass gatherings.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced 38 new cases of the coronavirus bringing the total number of infected persons to 171.

The outbreak of the disease was labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organisation last week as the worldwide death toll from the virus continues to grow. Total cases have surpassed 179,000 across 136 countries. 

In an effort to curb its spread, the kingdom suspended the Umrah pilgrimage earlier this month and Mecca's Grand Mosque was temporarily closed.

Though the mosque has partially reopened, worshippers are forbidden from touching the sacred Kabaa and performing Umrah. 

Saudi Arabia also temporary closed off the eastern province of Qatif where most of the kingdom's cases have come from.