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With virus relatively contained, Saudi Arabia lifts most pandemic restrictions.
March 7, 2021
By Ben Hubbard
Saudi Arabia on Sunday lifted most restrictions that had been imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, permitting indoor dining at restaurants and allowing gyms and barbershops to reopen.
After getting hit hard by the virus last summer, the kingdom has done comparatively well at controlling its epidemic with on-again, off-again restrictions. The country of 34 million, more than one-third of them noncitizens, has recorded more than 379,000 cases and 6,500 deaths.
After a rise in cases, the government on Feb. 3 imposed restrictions on recreational activities that were supposed to last 10 days but were extended for another 20 days.
Under the new rules, indoor dining at restaurants has resumed, with mandatory temperature checks upon entry and no more than five people at tables that must be three meters apart. Movie theaters, gyms and sports centers have also reopened.
Larger events such as weddings, banquets and corporate conferences are still banned, with a 20-person cap on other events.
Saudi Arabia and its wealthy Gulf Arab neighbors have generally fared better against the virus than other countries in the Arab world.
The United Arab Emirates has heavily invested in vaccination and is now a world leader, having given more than 6.2 million vaccines and reaching rate of 63 doses per 100 people, according to government figures.
Kuwait on Sunday imposed a 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for the next month after a rise in cases. Last month, the country had reduced opening hours for nonessential business and barred noncitizens from entering the country. Kuwait also has a strict mandate on face masks in public places; violators can be fined up to $16,000 and given three-month jail terms.
The pandemic has put economic pressures on Gulf states since it has reduced demand for oil and gas, on which the nations rely heavily for income. The pandemic has also increased stress on the millions of low-paid foreign laborers, mostly from South Asia, who do a range of essential jobs. Across the region, many such workers have seen their wages cut, been laid off or had to return home because of lost jobs.