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Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia locks down Qatif province, suspends school over virus

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Saudi Arabia imposed a temporary lockdown on Sunday on the eastern oil-producing province of Qatif, home to all 11 people in the kingdom who have tested positive for the coronavirus, and suspended all schools and universities nationwide.

The interior ministry announced the lockdown in Qatif, which has a large Shi’ite Muslim population, after the four latest cases were confirmed in Saudi Arabia. It is not expected to have any impact on Saudi oil production, two industry sources said.

But the decision could stir resentment in Qatif, which has been a flashpoint between the Sunni-dominated Saudi government and minority Shi’ites who have complained of discrimination and marginalisation, charges the government denies.

Saudi authorities have previously said those infected have either been to Iran or had contact with people who visited the Islamic Republic, home to Shi’ite holy sites.

The restrictions in Qatif could also increase tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Riyadh denounced Tehran on Thursday for granting Saudi citizens entry during the coronavirus outbreak.

Saudi Arabia has banned travel to Iran, which has reported 194 coronavirus deaths, and said legal action would be taken against any Saudi national travelling there.

The interior ministry said it had suspended movement into and out of Qatif while ensuring returning residents could reach their homes and that commercial supplies to the province continue.

“Work at all public and private institutions is halted as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the disease, with the exception of vital facilities that provide security services and necessary provisions,” a ministry statement said.

Cement blocks were placed on the main road to Qatif, one resident said. Other residents reported a rush on grocery shops in Qatif after the lockdown began.

The health ministry said the newly diagnosed people, three of whom are women, had contact with a person with the virus who was reported to have returned from Iran via the United Arab Emirates but did not disclose his visit to the authorities.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Travel chaos erupts in Italy as country announces mass quarantine

The Saudi government restricted land crossings with the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain to commercial trucks only on Sunday and said passenger arrivals would be limited to three Saudi airports.

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