These measures come after several travelers failed to mention to the authorities that they had visited Iran upon returning to Saudi Arabia via other states in the Gulf. This failure to disclose past travel gave the kingdom its first cases of the coronavirus. Authorities have said that most of their COVID-19 cases come from people who had returned to the country from either Iran or Iraq, or interacted with people who visited one of those two nations.
The Ministry of Interior, in a press release published by the state-controlled Saudi Press Agency, announced that all entry into and exit from the Qatif Governorate is temporarily restricted. Furthermore, all work in both government offices and private institutions has been halted as a precautionary measure to lower the risk of transmission of infection -- with the exception of emergency services and institutions that provide basic needs such as pharmacies, supply stores and gas stations. Al-Qatif Governorate, located within the country's Eastern Province, is a stronghold for the kingdom's minority Shia Muslim population.
Saudi Arabia's health ministry said that at least 15 of the country's COVID-19 cases have come from the Qatif governorate.
The kingdom has also imposed travel restrictions on 14 countries. These include neighboring Gulf states such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates; other Middle Eastern states like Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Turkey; European states like France, Germany and Spain; and countries that were hit exceptionally hard by the coronavirus outbreak like Italy and South Korea. (Related: Iran's VP infected by the coronavirus - many top officials are also sick... or DEAD.)
As per this decision, all travel -- air and sea-based -- to the 14 countries will be suspended. Several land borders have also been closed, such as the causeway linking eastern Saudi Arabia to the island state of Bahrain.
"All the travelers coming to the kingdom by international flights, managers and workers of other transportation means have to respect local and international health directives," said Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor in a statement.
To help the worldwide efforts to combat the coronavirus, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia personally donated 37.5 million Saudi riyals ($10 million) to the World Health Organization. The kingdom has pursued other directives to help combat COVID-19's spread within their own country, such as the historic freeze on pilgrims coming to the country to visit Mecca and Medina, Islam's two holiest cities. This ban covers foreign Muslims, Saudi citizens and residents of the kingdom alike.
Saudi authorities' event went so far as to clear out parts of the Great Mosque of Mecca so that they can begin sterilizing the place to minimize the risk of an outbreak. Images and videos shared by both state news outlets and people in social media showed the white tiled parade grounds surrounding the Kaaba almost empty, a very rare sight. The Kaaba is the great black cube at the center of the Great Mosque which happens to be the most sacred site in all of Islam.
Saudi authorities have also asked imams (Islamic priests) to limit their sermons during Friday prayers to 15 minutes. The Ministry for Islamic Affairs has also banned any food and beverages in mosques and spiritual retreats. All schools across the country are also being suspended. This suspension covers all public and private learning institutions, including universities and educational and Koranic activities at mosques. State media reported that "distance learning measures" would be implemented in schools to limit the effects of the disruption in classes.
As of press time, Saudi Arabia has 20 coronavirus cases. The kingdom confirmed four of these cases early on Monday. Four of the patients are in intensive care units. Three of the ICU cases are stable, while one is in critical condition.