By Alaa Swilam
DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will impose a fine of up to 500,000 riyals ($133,000) on people who do not disclose health information and travel details at entry points, it said on Monday, as the Gulf state works to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The kingdom on Sunday imposed a temporary lockdown on its eastern oil-producing province of Qatif, where the majority of the 15 individuals diagnosed with the disease live. Some have failed to disclose traveling to Iran to the authorities upon returning to Saudi Arabia via other Gulf Arab states.
Authorities in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, on Monday asked imams to deliver Friday prayer sermons in less than 15 minutes. The Islamic Affairs Ministry banned food and beverages at mosques in addition to spiritual retreats.
Saudi Arabia suspended travel with 14 countries including neighboring Arab states, France, Germany, Turkey and Spain and said legal action would be taken against any citizen going to Iran, which reported 237 deaths from the virus on Monday.
The kingdom said most of the individuals with coronavirus had returned from Iran or Iraq — home to Shi’ite Muslim shrines — or interacted with people who visited the Islamic Republic. Qatif has a large Shi’ite population.
“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,” the kingdom’s public prosecutor said in a statement.
King Salman has donated $10 million to support efforts by the World Health Organization to counter the coronavirus outbreak, state news agency SPA reported.
Other measures implemented in Saudi to contain the disease include a rare freeze on pilgrimages to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina by foreigners, and Saudi citizens and residents.
The causeway linking eastern Saudi to the island state of Bahrain was closed at midnight on Saturday.
All Gulf Arab states have recorded infections.
The UAE, a major regional business hub and transit point for passengers to Asia, announced 14 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the number of people infected to 59.
Four of the new cases were Emiratis and three Italians, a health ministry statement said.
Oman reported two new cases on Monday to bring the number diagnosed with the disease to 18.
Qatar, which reported three new infections on Monday to bring the number of people diagnosed to 18, followed other Gulf countries by announcing it was suspending schools and universities from March 10.
Kuwait said it would close all cinemas, theaters, wedding halls and hotel meeting rooms until further notice. It also extended a temporary school closure by two weeks until March 26, the government communications office said.
Bahrain closed down a unit in a major hospital in Manama after a medical intern tested positive for the virus, state news agency BNA reported, citing the health ministry.
Authorities have halted travel by Bahraini officials abroad until further notice. The country has diagnosed 95 individuals with the virus.
(Additional reporting by Marwa Rashad, Alexander Cornwell and Lisa Barrington; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi,; Editing by Ed Osmond and William Maclean)