Saudi king warns of 'difficult' coronavirus fight

AFP , Thursday 19 Mar 2020

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz
A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on March 19, 2020 shows Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz speaking during a televised speech, addressing the nation about the COVID-19 coronavirus disease pandemic. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia's King Salman warned Thursday of a "more difficult" fight ahead against the new coronavirus, as the kingdom faces the double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.

"We are going through a difficult stage," the king said in the first televised speech by a Gulf leader on the pandemic.

"The next stage will be more difficult at the global level to confront the rapid spread of the pandemic," he added.

Saudi Arabia has reported 274 COVID-19 cases but no deaths so far.

The Arab world's biggest economy has shut down cinemas, malls and restaurants, halted flights and suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage as it steps up efforts to contain the deadly virus.

Saudi Arabia has also suspended prayers inside all its mosques except the holiest two sites in Islam in Mecca and Medina.

The world's top crude exporter also faces plunging oil prices, the mainstay of government revenue, which slipped below $25 a barrel this week to touch 18-year lows on the back of sagging demand due to the virus and a price war with Russia.

Saudi Arabia will trim this year's budget by around five percent, the finance minister said on Wednesday, in its first austerity measure.

More than 1,000 cases of the virus have been recorded so far across the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

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