Saudi Arabia has declared a state of emergency over the spread of the deadly virus in the country’s vast deserts, a move that is likely to worsen already high health costs and leave millions of people without basic services.
The kingdom has already taken in some 1.5 million refugees, mostly from neighbouring Yemen, as it battles to contain the spread and has pledged to open all its schools and kindergartens on Saturday.
At least 13 people have died and around 7,000 have been infected in the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia since 1976.
It is the latest blow to the kingdom, which has the world’s second-largest oil reserves, and the world second-highest population.
A report published in Saudi daily Al-Watan on Monday showed that the country is facing an acute shortage of medical supplies and medicines and that it is facing a huge amount of financial strain.
The government has already closed all schools and universities and imposed a 30-day shutdown on public transport, and on Sunday, it imposed a nationwide 10-day quarantine on public gatherings, according to the newspaper.
Many families are now forced to live in tents in the desert to try to escape the spread.
Dr. Ali Al-Jubeir, a doctor in the hospital where I was treated, told Al-Arabiya television that the Saudi government has been unable to distribute enough medical supplies.
He said that after the outbreak, the government decided to close hospitals and clinics for a period of time, as the outbreak was spreading rapidly and the supply of medicines was short.
He also said that a total of 1,200 new cases were recorded in the first 24 hours of the outbreak.
The Saudi government said it is not responsible for the spread, and urged people to keep the virus under control.
The Ministry of Health said on Monday that its emergency plan to combat the virus includes the deployment of 5,000 more ambulances, 15,000 emergency room beds and 30,000 private ambulances.
Saudi Arabia has had a total outbreak of 4,638 cases and 6,622 deaths, and has also announced that a new national vaccine will be launched on July 1.
Saudi Arabian Health Minister Sheikh Saud Al-Faisal said the government will set up a committee to monitor the spread in order to ensure the health of the population.
The committee will examine the medical response to the coronovirus, he said.
The country has also pledged $100 million to the UN to help contain the virus.
The world’s most populous country has been plagued by the deadly disease since the end of last year, with a total 3,093 cases.
More than 80,000 people have been treated for coronaviruses, the WHO said.
In Saudi Arabia, the virus is spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people.