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Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states renew restrictions after coronavirus spikes during Ramadan

BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries are seeing a sharp spike in coronavirus cases, prompting governments to reimpose some restrictions that had been lifted late last month ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab Gulf country, had recorded about 15,000 cases when Ramadan began. But in less than a month, the kingdom’s numbers quadrupled, with nearly 60,000 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, making it the Arab world’s new hotbed of infection.

In response, the kingdom has announced that it will enforce a nationwide 24-hour curfew starting Saturday and continuing into next week during the Eid al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of Ramadan.

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Kuwait has experienced an even sharper increase in cases, the most dramatic in its neighborhood, with confirmed infections up nearly sevenfold from since the first day of Ramadan to 16,800 on Tuesday.

Kuwait announced plans earlier this month to reimpose a lockdown from May 10 until May 30 in response to the spike. Walking for exercise is permitted for two hours every evening, but driving cars is not.

In Qatar, where cases have quadrupled to 37,000, the government announced the closure of nonessential stores for 10 days and required that all citizens and residents download a cellphone tracking app to monitor those who come into contact with people who test positive for the virus. Noncompliance can be punished with three years in jail and a fine of up to $55,000.

The other Gulf Arab countries — the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Bahrain — had also eased restrictions at the onset of Ramadan, an especially social month when pious and impious alike make social calls and hold dinner parties. All those countries have now seen the number of infections surge.

Officials believe many of the new cases are in the large communities of foreign workers.

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