Severity: Critical Alert

Entry/Exit: Authorities in Saudi Arabia on May 7 ban gatherings of more than five people until further notice to combat spread of COVID-19.

This alert affects Saudi Arabia

This alert began 07 May 2020 22:10 GMT and is scheduled to expire 05 Jun 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: Restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Transport and business disruptions, increased security

Authorities in Saudi Arabia announced May 7 that they will ban gatherings of more than five people until further notice as part of the country's efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The new restrictions prohibit residents from congregating in shopping malls and retail stores. A newly formed police unit will enforce the new decrees; violators will be subject to fines and disciplinary action.

Authorities barred entry and exit to Dammam's Second Industrial City from May 3 until further notice to combat COVID-19. Officials will allow cargo shipments to enter and exit the city; vital factories in the area will be permitted to operate at one-third capacity. A previous lockdown imposed on Dammam's al-Atheer neighborhood was lifted May 2.

Other restrictions in force in Saudi Arabia include the following:

  • Authorities allowed movement into and out of Al-Qatif Governorate from April 30, within the limits of the daily curfews that remain in force. Al-Qatif Governorate, located in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, had been under lockdown since March 8.
  • Most existing curfews in effect throughout Saudi Arabia have been reduced through May 13 for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and will run 1700-0900 nightly rather than the previous time frame of 24 hours. Authorities will also resume some economic activities by allowing some malls and other retail establishments to reopen from April 29-May 13. All stores must adhere to social distancing measures. Businesses that cannot comply with social distancing guidelines must remain closed. Security forces have deployed to ensure that the public observed social distancing; gatherings of more than five people remain banned.
  • The city of Mecca and its surrounding neighborhoods remain under full lockdown until further notice. Authorities prohibit residents of areas under full lockdown from leaving their homes, with officials delivering essential goods and services.
  • The Saudi Ministry of Interior has implemented revised business hours for restaurants during Ramadan (April 24-May 24). Restaurants may open 1500-0300 across the Kingdom, but must only accept orders for delivery or catering. Authorities could reverse the measures at the end of Ramadan, depending on the disease activity in the coming days and weeks.
  • Movement restrictions remain in effect in Al-Faisaliah and Al-Fadhliyah districts in Al-Ahsa Governorate, Eastern Province, until further notice. No one is allowed to enter or leave the two governorates; individuals working in critical industries, such as health and security, are exempt. Authorities prohibit residents from traveling outside their municipalities. Drivers are only allowed to have one passenger at any given time. Similar measures are in force in Samtah and Al Dayer governorates in Jazan Province until further notice.
  • Complete lockdowns are in effect in Riyadh, Tabuk, Dammam, Dhahran, Hofuf, and across Jeddah, Taif, and Khobar governorates until further notice. Certain neighborhoods in Medina are also under a similar lockdown. Authorities are prohibiting residents in the affected areas from leaving their homes, with officials delivering essential goods and services.
  • International and domestic passenger flights, public transportation - including buses, taxis, and trains - and the operations of nonessential government agencies and private businesses remain suspended indefinitely. The measures do not apply to transport associated with vital sectors, including health, cargo, and energy.
  • Domestic travel in and out of all the Kingdom's 13 provinces, as well as the cities of Riyadh, Mecca, and Medina, remains banned. Essential workers in some public and private sectors are exempt.
  • Universities and religious schools remain closed nationwide. The King Fahd Causeway linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain remains closed indefinitely. Land border crossings with Kuwait, Yemen, and the UAE remain closed until further notice. The closures do not apply to commercial transport.

Authorities could introduce further restrictive measures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic with little warning; such measures could be ambiguous and occasionally contradictory.

Background and Analysis
The Saudi government's preventive measures are similar to actions taken by other regional governments in recent days in response to the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (previously known as 2019-nCoV). Symptoms occur 1-14 days following exposure (average of 3-7 days). These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure - especially in those with underlying medical conditions. On March 11, the WHO declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Follow all official instructions. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm all travel arrangements. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Plan for queues and delays at available shopping centers.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.

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