Saudi health minister warns virus cases could spike up to 200,000

The kingdom has so far reported 2,795 cases and 41 deaths.
Saturday 11/04/2020
A Saudi nurse checks a patient's temperature at a mobile clinic in the holy city of Mecca, April 7. (AFP)
Stern warning. A Saudi nurse checks a patient's temperature at a mobile clinic in the holy city of Mecca, April 7. (AFP)

LONDON--Saudi Arabia’s health minister warned that COVID-19 infections could jump up to 200,000 in the kingdom within weeks and urged the public to adhere to government directives against mixing and movement, Saudi state media reported.

“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,” Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said in a rare televised address.

The kingdom has so far reported 2,795 cases and 41 deaths, the highest in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), despite halting all passenger flights, suspending most commercial activities and imposing a 24-hour curfew in major cities, including the capital Riyadh.

According to the Saudi health minister, four studies by infectious disease experts indicated the number of cases was likely to reach between 10,000 and 200,000 in coming weeks. He stressed that the 24-hour curfews, imposed on Monday night, were needed because some were not taking the danger seriously, but instead leaving their homes to gather in groups. Passenger road traffic had only fallen by barely 50%, he noted.

“Let me speak to you frankly, even if it hurts. Unfortunately, some members of society did not apply the slogan ‘We are all responsible’ and did not seriously deal with this epidemic,” Rabiah said during his televised address.

“They also didn’t adhere to the warnings banning contacting and gatherings as you have seen such practices and behaviours in the past days,” he added.

Rabiah said keeping infections at current levels for 4 to 12 months would give the kingdom more time to prepare and prevent the virus from overwhelming the health system, as it has in other countries.

The health minister also revealed that King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud approved another 7 billion riyals ($1.86 billion) for the health ministry to combat the disease and another $32 billion could be disbursed before the end of the year.

On Monday, the government put the capital Riyadh under a 24-hour curfew along with several other cities.  State news agency SPA quoted an official source at the interior ministry as saying on April 6 that the move aimed to combat the spread of the virus.

Other than Riyadh, a curfew has been imposed in the cities of Tabuk, Dammam, Dhahran and Hofuf. People will not be allowed to enter or exit these cities except for medical or food supplies. Earlier, Saudi Arabia had put the key city of Jeddah and its governorate under lockdown in addition to the governorates of Taif, Qatif and Khobar.

(With agencies)