Saudi king urges solidarity to overcome 'difficult period' of coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends the 14th Islamic summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's King Salman spoke publicly on Thursday for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak, saying the kingdom will take measures to curb its spread and urged citizens to work together to confront the pandemic.

"We are living through a difficult period in the history of the world, but we are fully aware that it will pass despite its cruelty, bitterness and difficulty," the 84-year-old monarch said in a five-minute televised address.

He urged people to act with solidarity and cooperation and to adhere to official directives.

Saudi Arabia recorded 36 new infections on Thursday, bringing its total to 274 with no deaths so far.

It has taken drastic measures already, including halting international flights, suspending the Umrah year-round pilgrimage to Mecca, closing mosques, schools, malls and restaurants, and asking people to stop going to work.

Later on Thursday, the government suspended Muslims from conducting their five daily prayers and the weekly Friday prayer in the overflow area just outside the walls of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Amid volatility in regional markets and plunging oil prices, the world's top crude exporter has prepared a 50 billion riyal (£11.25 billion) package to help small- and medium-sized enterprises cope, and has cut its state budget by nearly 5%.

De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king's son and heir apparent, has talked by phone with several foreign leaders but not spoken publicly since the country went into virtual lockdown last weekend. The government has halted its regular Cabinet meetings.

Coronavirus infections among the Gulf Arab states were more than 1,300, with one death in Bahrain. Many of the cases are linked to travel to Iran, an epicentre of the outbreak in the Middle East with 1,284 deaths and more than 18,000 cases.



(Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Marwa Rashad; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)