DUBAI – The Saudi king suspended final rulings and judicial orders on visitation rights of children of separated parents in the latest effort to try and curb the spread of the novel coronavirus among households, according to state media reports Wednesday.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency said parents were notified of the changes by text message, the latest measure by the kingdom to stem the rising number of new infections as a nearly nationwide 24-hour curfew takes place.
Saudi Arabia has more than 2,900 confirmed cases of the virus, including 41 deaths. This week, the kingdom began imposing a 24-hour curfew in the capital, Riyadh, and several other cities, including Jiddah and Mecca. It has already barred travel to and from Riyadh, Mecca and Medina, suspended prayers at mosques and closed Islam’s holiest sites to pilgrims to limit infections.
King Salman on Tuesday also ordered the temporary release from prison of people serving sentences related to unpaid private debts, and ordered the suspension of all rulings related to such cases. The government did not say how many detainees would be affected.
Several Mideast countries are temporarily releasing some non-violent convicts due to concerns that prison conditions could cause a spike in infections.
Sudan released more than 200 prisoners in the Darfur region, the official SUNA news agency reported late Tuesday. They were among more than 4,200 prisoners the transitional government has said would be released to stem the spread of the virus. Sudan, which announced a series of measures including a night-time curfew across the country, has reported 14 cases, including two deaths for the virus.
Saudi media quoted the country's Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah on Tuesday as warning that between 10,000 to 200,000 people could be infected with the virus in the kingdom within weeks, based on four different expert studies.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death.
There are 128,000 cases across much of the Middle East, with Iran the hardest-hit country in the region. On Wednesday, Iranian authorities said 121 people with the virus had died over the past 24 hours, bringing the nationwide death toll to 3,993, out of 64,586 confirmed cases. Iran said 29,812 of the patients have recovered.
Egypt on Wednesday extended its night-time curfew and other preventative measures for two more weeks, until April 23, though it scaled back curfew hours to 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly pleaded with Egyptians to practice social distancing, stay at home and adhere to the government measures, saying the Arab world's most populous country is expecting a spike in infections in the next two to three weeks.
Egypt has shuttered schools, universities, mosques, churches and archaeological sites, including the famed Giza Pyramids, halted international air travel, and ordered restaurants, coffee shops, malls and gyms to close at night to encourage people to stay at home.
Still, 6-foot (1.8-meter) social distancing has become impossible at times in the capital Cairo, a city of more than 20 million people, and other metropolitan areas. Many are still going to work during the daytime, encountering some busy buses and microbuses. Commuters are seen just inches (centimeters) apart, most not wearing face masks. Egypt has more than 1,400 confirmed virus cases, with at least 94 deaths.
The government in eastern Libya extended its curfew by a week in areas under its control to stem the spread of the virus. The interim government is allied with forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter who has been conducting a yearlong military offensive on Tripoli, the capital of the rival government in the west. Libya has confirmed 21 cases of the coronavirus, including one death.
In Jordan, state-run news agency Petra reported Wednesday the industry, trade and supply ministry has ordered traders to stop exporting food products to boost the Kingdom’s stockpile of food in the wake of the crisis. Jordan has more than 350 confirmed cases, including six deaths.
Associated Press writers Abdullah al-Shihri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Samy Magdy in Cairo, Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.