Middle East - Saudi Arabia

COVID-19: Saudi Arabia warns after infections rise

Saudi Arabia had said it would end travel restrictions for its citizens and reopen its borders on March 31.

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Saudi Arabia has reported more than 368,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 6,400 deaths, the highest among Gulf Arab states.

Saudi Arabia’s health minister warned Sunday that new coronavirus restrictions could be imposed amid an uptick in infections, as the kingdom slows the rollout of vaccines due to supply delays.

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“We have seen in recent days a noticeable and continuous rise in coronavirus infections,” Tawfiq al-Rabiah said in a video message, blaming “gatherings and lax enforcement of preventative measures”.

“The lack of compliance will undoubtedly force us to introduce measures to protect society,” he added, without elaborating.

Health workers perform nose swab tests during a drive through coronavirus test campaign held in Diriyah hospital in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 7, 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP.

But the kingdom has also reported a high rate of recoveries, while daily infections dipped below 100 in early January from a peak of nearly 5,000 last June.

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However, new daily infections have been steadily climbing in recent weeks, with 261 cases reported by the health ministry on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign on December 17 after receiving the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The health ministry said the programme would roll out in three phases, starting with people over 65 and those with chronic ailments or at high risk of infection.

But earlier this month the ministry said it was forced to slow the rollout due to a delay in vaccine deliveries.

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Saudi Arabia had said it would end travel restrictions for its citizens and reopen its borders on March 31.

But on Friday the interior ministry said it had pushed back the date to May 17 due to vaccine delays, in a bid to avoid a second coronavirus wave.

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