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Saudi Arabia to fine people up to $133,000 for hiding health details on entry

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FILE PHOTO: General view of the Grand Mosque which is almost empty of worshippers, after Saudi authority suspended umrah (Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca) amid the fear of coronavirus outbreak, at Muslim holy city of Mecca

By Alaa Swilam

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia said on Monday it will impose a fine of up to 500,000 riyals ($133,000) on people who do not disclose their health-related information and travel details at entry points, as the Gulf state works to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The kingdom on Sunday imposed a temporary lockdown on its eastern oil-producing province of Qatif, where the majority of the 15 individuals diagnosed with the disease reside. Some have failed to disclose traveling to Iran to the authorities upon returning to Saudi Arabia via other Gulf Arab states.

Saudi Arabia suspended travel with nine countries including neighboring Arab states on Monday and said legal action would be taken against any citizen traveling to Iran, which reported 237 deaths from the virus on Monday.

The kingdom said most of the individuals with coronavirus had returned from Iran or Iraq — home to Shi’ite Muslim shrines — or interacted with people who visited the Islamic Republic. Qatif has a large Shi’ite population.

“All the travelers coming to the kingdom by international flights, managers and workers of other transportation means have to respect local and international health directives,” said a statement from the kingdom’s public prosecutor.

A fine of up to 500,000 riyals will be imposed on people who do not comply, it said, adding that transport professionals will be held responsible for any fallout from their violations.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, on Monday also asked imams to deliver Friday prayer sermons in less than 15 minutes. The Islamic Affairs Ministry banned food and beverages at mosques in addition to spiritual retreats.

King Salman has donated $10 million to support efforts by the World Health Organization to counter the coronavirus outbreak, state news agency SPA reported on Monday.

All Gulf Arab states have recorded infections.

The UAE, a major regional business hub and transit point for passengers to Asia, announced 14 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total number of people infected to 59.

Of the new cases, there were four Emiratis and three Italians, said a health ministry statement.

Oman reported two new cases on Monday to bring the total number of people diagnosed with the disease to 18.

Qatar, which has recorded 15 infections, followed other Gulf countries by announcing it was suspending schools and universities from March 10 to prevent the spread of the disease.

Bahrain closed down a unit in a major hospital in Manama after a medical intern tested positive for the virus, state news agency BNA reported on Monday, citing the health ministry.

It said authorities also halted travel by Bahraini officials abroad until further notice. The country has diagnosed 95 individuals with the virus.

(Additional reporting by Marwa Rashad and Alexander Cornwell; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi,; Editing by Alison Williams, Ed Osmond, William Maclean)

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