Saudi Arabia’s health minister on Tuesday warned of a huge spike in coronavirus cases of up to 200,000 within weeks, state media reported.
The warning comes a day after the kingdom extended the duration of daily curfews in multiple cities, including the capital Riyadh, to 24 hours in a bid to limit the spread of the deadly virus.
“Within the next few weeks, studies predict the number of infections will range from a minimum of 10,000 to a maximum of 200,000,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing health minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah.
Rabiah, who warned the kingdom faces a “critical moment” in the fight against the virus, said the projection was based on four studies by Saudi and international experts.
Saudi Arabia has so far reported a total of 2,795 infections and 41 deaths from the disease, according to the latest tally released by the health ministry on Tuesday.
The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of infections in the Gulf, is scrambling to limit the spread of the disease at home.
Saudi Arabia on Monday announced round-the-clock lockdowns on the cities of Riyadh, Tabuk, Dammam, Dhahran and Hofuf, according to the interior ministry.
The same measures were also imposed on the governorates of Jeddah, Taif, Qatif and Khobar, the ministry added.
Rabiah said the curfew was tightened across multiple cities as many people were not adhering to health warnings against public gatherings and social contact.
Authorities had already sealed off the holy cities of Mecca and Medina along with Riyadh and Jeddah, barring people from entering and exiting as well as prohibiting movement between all provinces.
Last month, King Salman warned of a “more difficult” fight ahead against the virus, as the kingdom faces the economic double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.
Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage last month over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading to Islam’s holiest cities.
Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s hajj, scheduled for the end of July. Authorities last week urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.
Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in the hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.
The Arab world’s biggest economy has also closed down cinemas, malls and restaurants and halted flights as it steps up efforts to contain the virus.