Saudi reimposes virus lockdown on Jeddah

Imam Mohammed, muezzin of the Jaffali mosque in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, announces the prayer call at the mosque which is closed due to a government decree

Saudi Arabia on Friday announced a renewed lockdown in the city of Jeddah, gateway to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, to counter a new spike in coronavirus cases.

"After reviewing the epidemiological situation and the high occupancy rates of intensive care departments, it was decided to take strict health precautions in the city of Jeddah for two weeks," starting from Saturday, the health ministry said.

The measures include a curfew running from 3 pm to 6 am, a suspension of prayers in mosques and a stay-at-home order for public and private sector workers in the Red Sea city whose airport serves Mecca pilgrims.

After an easing of precautions in the kingdom in late May, the ministry said that strict measures could also soon return to Riyadh, which was "witnessing a continuous increase during the last days" of critical cases of the pandemic.

Saudi Arabia has declared almost 96,000 coronavirus infections and 642 deaths from the Covid-19 respiratory disease, the heaviest toll in the Gulf.

It has suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading to Islam's holiest cities.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year's hajj, scheduled for the end of July, but have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in the hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.