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April 3, 2020

Until further notice, Makkah, Medina under 24-hour curfew

Top Story

April 3, 2020

RIYADH/ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI/KARACHI: Saudi Arabia on Thursday decided to impose a 24-hour curfew in Makkah and Medina as part of the kingdom’s measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the official state agency reported. The 24-hour curfew was announced by Interior Minister Abdul Aziz Bin Saud Al Saud. The inhabitants of the two holiest cities have been advised to say their prayers at home and avoid venturing out unnecessarily, international media reports.

Authorities have also sealed off Riyadh and Jeddah, barring people from entering and exiting the cities as well as prohibiting movement between all the provinces. Security has also been beefed up at all the holy places.

According to an official at the ministry of interior, adult residents will be allowed to leave their homes for urgent medical care and food supplies between 6am and 3pm. The decision, effective from Thursday and “until further notice”, excludes those working in vital institutions in the public and private sectors in accordance with a previous royal decree.

“It is prohibited to practice any commercial activities within the residential neighbourhoods of the cities of Makkah and Medina, except for pharmacies, foodstuff stores, gas stations and banking services,” Thursday’s decree said.

The decision added that only one passenger in addition to the driver will be allowed in each motor vehicle moving within the two cities, to limit the possible transmission of the virus.

The new restrictions come as the kingdom reported 165 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infections to 1,885. Five new deaths have also been reported over the last 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 21, Saudi Health Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al Rabiah, said during a press conference.

He said 64 infected patients had fully recovered, taking the total recoveries to 328. The minister highlighted the importance of the measures in controlling the spread of the pandemic.

“People’s adherence is essential to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, whatever the strong measures,” the minister said. The kingdom is extending the curfew as part of slew of intensified measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the interior minister said.

The minister said “there are some exemptions as we will allow people in Makkah and Medina to move within the minimum range and only within their neighbourhoods to buy their essentials.”

He emphasised that security authorities will show no leniency towards curfew violators, calling on all community members to adhere to the new measures imposed to safeguard the safety of everyone.

On 25 March, Saudi Arabia announced a countrywide lockdown that included banning entry and exit from Makkah, Medina and Riyadh as well as a ban on movement between the thirteen provinces of the kingdom.

The novel virus, also known as Covid-19, has infected more than 1,700 people in the kingdom and killed 16. Saudi Arabia, home to 30 million people, has implemented drastic measures since the beginning of the outbreak, including suspension of international flights, closing schools and universities, and closing off the eastern region of Qatif, where most of the initial cases were reported.

It had also suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage and banned prayers in all its mosques, including the holy mosques in Makkah and Medina. On Wednesday, the minister of Haj and Umrah, said on state TV that Muslims are urged to wait until there is more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic before planning to attend the annual Haj pilgrimage.

The oil-rich kingdom has unveiled economic stimulus measures amounting to 120bn riyals ($32bn) to support businesses, and said it planned to raise borrowing to 50 percent of GDP in efforts to sustain an economy hit by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Thursday urged people to pray at home following the coronavirus outbreak and adhere to the safety guidelines of the government to contain the virus. In a press release, the CII threw its weight behind the government's decision to ban congregational prayers for more than five people.

"The value of human life has a special importance in Shariah and the religion of God gives it special importance," its chairperson, Dr Qibla Ayaz, said, according to the statement.

Ayaz urged people to stay at home to practice social distancing and called upon them to follow safety precautions provided by the state institutions and medical experts.

He emphasised that people should not perceive that mosques were being locked up but at the same time urged the places of worship to adhere to the government's instructions on limiting congregational prayers.

The CII called upon the government to seek cooperation from imams rather than locking them up so that they could fight the virus with the authorities' help. It added that the spread of the coronavirus was not linked to any one religious group or sect.

"Whether it be Umrah pilgrims, zaireen of holy sites or members of the Tablighi Jamaat, none are associated with the spread of this disease. Individual negligence that has taken place in this regard should be treated with lawful and logical steps," said Ayaz.

The council paid tribute to the international organisations, medical experts, and health professionals battling the virus at present and those engaged in seeking a cure for the pandemic. It urged the affluent to keep in mind the religious minorities in Pakistan and help them out during this crisis.

"All those affected by the coronavirus should be helped regardless of their faith or ethnicity. The government, civil society and public should join hands to provide relief to them," the CII chair added.

Ayaz noted that people who had died from the coronavirus should be referred to as martyrs or deceased, rather than saying they were killed.

He said those who lost their battle against COVID-19 should be given ‘ghusl’, or ablution in accordance with the safety precautions.

He also urged the government to upgrade the status of mosques as community centres. Condemning the curfew in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), the CII called on the world to take notice of Indian barbarity in the disputed territory.

It also said the government should help out Pakistanis who were stranded both within the country and abroad. Meanwhile, Tablighi Jamaat's Maulana Saad Kandhlawi has said that he will fully support the Indian government in its fight against the coronavirus.

The Muslim community leader has also urged his fraternity to stay inside their homes and avoid gatherings.

"We should avoid gathering at places and follow what the government and law want us to do. It is also our duty to provide support and help to them in these times," Maulana Saad appealed to all members of Tablighi Jamaat through an audio message.

"Quarantine yourself, no matter where you are, it is not against Islam or Shariah," he added. In the audio message, Maulana Saad further said that he has quarantined himself in Delhi acting upon the advice of doctors.

A huge religious gathering was held at the Markaz building in Nizamuddin between March 13 and 15, the event came into the spotlight after multiple coronavirus cases were confirmed amongst those who attended the event held in mid-March.

In a related development, the Sindh government Thursday announced complete lockdown across the province from 12 noon to 3 pm on Friday (today) to restrict people from participating in the congregational Jumma prayers as part of the restrictive measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Under the directive, traffic would remain off the road during this time. In a statement, Sindh Information and Local Government Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah announced complete lockdown in the province from 12 noon to 3pm on Friday (today).

He said stopping people from the congregational prayers was a painful act but it was inevitable to prevent the spread of coronavirus. He said the mosques on Friday would not be closed but only three to five persons among the mosque staff could participate in the Jumma prayers.

The minister said people should realize that this painful decision was taken in the best public interest to safeguard their health and lives against from the deadly viral disease. He said people should realize the gravity of the situation and duly observe the lockdown by staying indoors.

He said the government could not succeed against the coronavirus until it got full support and cooperation of the masses. Shah said people had displayed massive generosity by donating to the provincial government’s Corona Emergency Relief Fund and it was continuing.

He was of opinion that the federal and Sindh government should operate a single emergency relief fund for the purpose. The members of the Sindh Assembly have also donated their one-month salary to the provincial government’s emergency relief fund.

Meanwhile, the Sindh Home Department has also issued a separate notification to order complete closure of public, private, transport, business other public activities on Friday. The notification only allowed three to five people to offer congregational prayers in the mosques.