Coronavirus invades Saudi royal family

Staff Correspondent | Published: 12:57, Apr 09,2020


Saudi Arabia began restricting travel and shut down pilgrimages to Makkah even before the kingdom had reported its first case, on March 2.—AFP Photo

Salman bin Abdulaziz, the king of Saudi Arabia where undocumented and irregular migrant workers are largely denied access to the government healthcare, decreed last week that the government would now provide treatment to any foreigner with the coronavirus, regardless of visa or residency status.

The order came after the rapid spread of the virus was reported among the migrant workers, who make up about a third of the kingdom’s population of roughly 33 million, and the royal family, reports the New York Times.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, so far has reported 41 deaths from the coronavirus and 2,795 confirmed cases.

But while imploring residents to stay home, Saudi health officials warned Tuesday that the epidemic was just getting started. The number of infections over the next few weeks ‘will range from a minimum of 10,000 to a maximum of 200,000,’ the health minister, Tawfiq al-Rabiah, said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

More than six weeks after Saudi Arabia reported its first case, the coronavirus is striking at the heart of the kingdom’s sprawling royal family, The New York Times said.

The senior Saudi prince who is governor of Riyadh is in intensive care with the coronavirus. Several dozen other members of the royal family have been sickened as well. And doctors at the elite hospital that treats Al-Saud clan members are preparing as many as 500 beds for an expected influx of other royals and those closest to them, according to an internal ‘high alert’ sent out by hospital officials.

‘Directives are to be ready for VIPs from around the country,’ the operators of the elite facility, the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, wrote in the alert, sent electronically on Tuesday night to senior doctors. The New York Times claims to obtain a copy of the order.

As many as 150 royals in the kingdom are now believed to have contracted the virus, including members of its lesser branches, according to a person close to the family.

King Salman, 84, has secluded himself for his safety in an island palace near the city of Jeddah on the Red Sea, while Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his son and the 34-year-old de facto ruler, has retreated with many of his ministers to the remote site on the same coast where he has promised to build a futuristic city known as Neom.

Like the hospitalisation this week of the British prime minister or the deaths last month of several top Iranian officials, the affliction of the al-Saud royal clan is the latest evidence of the pandemic’s egalitarianism, the US newspaper added.

The virus afflicts the richest princes and the poorest migrant workers with no discrimination — at least, until the moment they begin to seek testing or treatment.

The infection and treatment of the governor of Riyadh, Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was confirmed by two doctors with ties to the elite hospital and two others close to the royal family.

A former military officer believed to be in his late 70s, he is a nephew of King Salman and a grandson of the founder of the modern kingdom.

As governor of Riyadh, the capital, Prince Faisal holds a post previously occupied by a favourite son of the former King Abdullah and before that by King Salman himself, said the newspaper.

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