We detailed before that in late February Saudi authorities made the historically unprecedented to move to shut down the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the time they further suspended entry visas for pilgrim's wishing to visit the kingdom's holy sites.
By far the largest annual gathering of humans in the world is the pilgrimage to Mecca, which in 2018 alone saw about 2.4 million Muslims make the religious trip. Perhaps it was too late even by that point? A new report in Middle East Eye suggests nearly 70% of Mecca, or more than two million residents, has the virus based on recent rounds of broad testing, also amid the growing threat to the Saudi Royal family:
According to three senior Saudi medical sources, nearly 70 percent of Mecca's more than two million residents are estimated to be carriers of the virus, according to recent random testing conducted in the holy city.
Saudi Arabia has so far recorded 21,402 cases and 157 deaths from Covid-19. These are the highest numbers in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
“The actual spread of the disease could be three to four times higher than the declared one,” an anonymous medical official was quoted as saying in the report. “Saudi health authorities expect the peak to be sometime in June.”
A month ago the kingdom tightened restrictions further in key cities, including the imposition of a strict 24-hour curfew on the pilgrimage cities of Mecca and Medina. This after a country-wide lockdown was issued starting March 25.
Since then hospitals have reportedly become "overwhelmed" according to several international reports.
The alarming report also comes on the heels of recent New York Times reporting which said some 150 members of the royal family are being treated for COVID-19 at elite units of regional hospitals set up for that purpose.
But this week Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, a Saudi royal and former intelligence chief, downplayed the NYT report in the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.
“The truth is that only less than 20 members of the al-Saud family have been infected, and the hospital has not been allocated for them. The hospital treats all citizens and residents,” Prince Turki wrote.