Saudi Arabia moved on Sunday to quarantine an entire governorate in the eastern part of the country in an effort to prevent people leaving Qatif where up to 11 cases of coronavirus have been found. According to local and regional reports Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry is taking the extraordinary measures to shut down many premises in the area and restrict movement from Qatif.
Qatif is a city and governorate that is also home to many members of the Shi'ite minority. It is suspected that Shi'ites who had travelled to Iran and returned to Bahrain and Kuwait, which neighbor Saudi Arabia, brought the virus with them. This has been the case in the dozens of coronavirus cases in Bahrain and Kuwait. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had only one or two cases of the virus until March 8, when the numbers jumped to 11. Now the government appears to be looking at a scenario that China used in Wuhan or Italy is using in Northern Italy.
"Movement from and into the province will be temporarily suspended, but residents who are currently outside the area will be allowed back in," reports stated. Riyadh has taken extra precautions against the spread of the virus, suspending pilgrimages and seeking to clean and make sure the virus is not transmitted among the main travelers to the kingdom. The discovery that most cases are linked to Qatif has alarmed the authorities. Al-Arabiya and Al-Ain both reported the new closures that will affect the governorate. The overall number of people affected by the closures may be in the hundreds of thousands. The city itself has more than 500,000 residents and the region may have more.
Qatif is around 100 km from Bahrain via Damman and around 400 km from Kuwait City. There are thought to be 85 cases of the virus in Bahrain and 62 in Kuwait. In Iran, there are 6,566 cases and up to 200 dead. Fears of travelers from Iran and other countries have led to travel restrictions and closures across the Gulf.
Seth Frantzman, a Middle East Forum writing fellow, is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (2019), op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, and founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting & Analysis.