Saudi king offers to pay for coronavirus patients' treatment


  • World
  • Monday, 30 Mar 2020

FILE PHOTO: Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz delivers a televised speech regarding the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 19, 2020. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia will finance treatment for anyone infected with the coronavirus in the country, the health minister said on Monday, while the agriculture ministry took steps to boost wheat and livestock supplies amid global fears of a food shortage.

The kingdom has registered eight deaths among 1,453 infections, the highest among the six Gulf Arab states.

Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah said King Salman would cover treatment for citizens and residents diagnosed with the virus, urging people with symptoms to get tested.

"We are all in the same boat," he told a news conference, adding that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was overseeing containment efforts "night and day".

The kingdom's de facto ruler was last seen publicly at a cabinet meeting on March 3, days before detaining his uncle and three cousins in a move seen as cementing his eventual path to the throne.

King Salman, his 84-year-old father, addressed the nation two weeks ago and chaired an extraordinary virtual summit of G20 leaders to advance a global response to the coronavirus pandemic.

G20 trade ministers are holding an emergency video conference on Monday to discuss cooperation on supply chains.

At a separate news conference, the agriculture ministry spokesman said Saudi Arabia would start importing at least 1.2 million tonnes more wheat next month, adding to strategic reserves of over 1 million tonnes.

Abdullah Abalkhail said the kingdom had also expanded the list of countries from which it can import livestock.

Saudi Arabia has taken drastic steps to contain the coronavirus, halting international flights, closing most public places and imposing a partial curfew.

Restrictions on movement have tightened, with entry and exit to Riyadh, Mecca, Medina and Jeddah heavily restricted. The interior ministry said on Monday it was curbing access to six districts in Mecca, as it did over the weekend with several neighbourhoods in Medina.

The United Arab Emirates recorded two deaths on Monday in Arab and Asian nationals, both in their 40s with pre-existing heart conditions, raising the death toll to five among 611 infections. The country extended distance learning until the end of the academic year.

The health ministry in Bahrain, which has recorded four deaths and 500 cases, said a plane of evacuated citizens from Iran landed in Manama, without providing details.

Another plane landed in Kuwait carrying 70 of its nationals from Tehran, Kuwait said.

(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Alaa Swilam in Dubai and Stephen Kalin and Marwa Rashad in Riyadh; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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