Coronavirus: Cars throng streets in Jeddah as Saudi Arabia eases lockdown

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Thousands of families and residents in Jeddah began flocking to the city's seafront, malls, coffee shops and restaurants almost as soon as lockdown restrictions were eased from 6am on Thursday.

All areas of Saudi Arabia except Makkah have begun a three-stage lifting of the nationwide stay-at-home order imposed in late March to contain the kingdom' coronavirus outbreak.

In the first phase, movement in public is allowed from 6am to 3pm while strictly adhering to social distancing norms and wearing face masks. However, people getting exercise are able to go outdoors at any time, as long as they remain within five kilometres of their home.

All roads leading to Jeddah’s famous corniche were clogged with people and vehicles on Thursday, with young men and women shouting and singing in their cars and long lines in front restaurants and coffee shops.

However, there were fears that some people were ignoring the rules on social distancing and wearing face masks, raising concerns that authorities might be forced to reimpose restrictions.

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Coronavirus in the Middle East

A young Syrian refugee gets his temperature checked before being tested for the Covid-19 during a testing campaign organised by Lebanon's health ministry and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the southern city of Sidon. AFP

A medical worker handles a sample from a taxi driver while testing for Covid-19 in Morocco's capital Rabat. AFP

A worker is seen through a window as he places markers to ensure social distancing at Al Mirabi Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. AP Photo

Baccalaureate students wearing face masks sit at a classroom at Riadh high school, in La Marsa in the suburbs of Tunis, Tunisia. EPA

A waiter sanitises the hands of a customer in a restaurant as Palestinians ease the coronavirus disease restrictions, in Gaza City. Reuters

Fatih Municipality workers disinfect the Egyptian Bazaar before reopening in Istanbul, Turkey. EPA

Residents take a walk beneath a billboard bearing the instruction "it's serious, stay at home" in a neighbourhood of Kuwait city. AFP

A view of a closed mosque in central Baghdad, Iraq. EPA

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The crowds surprised some Jeddah residents.

“I hope we will not go back to where we started with the lockdown," said Abdullah Aoun, a writer and presenter for Saudi Radio.

"People, I'm sure, are claiming they're keeping their distance from other people, but based on what I saw this morning through the images I received, I don't believe so," said Mr Aoun.

As of Thursday, Saudi Arabia had reported 80,185 infections, 54,553 recoveries and and 441 deaths.

“I am now at the King Road on my way to the seafront with my family… It is unbelievable," said Hamad Al Aishiwan, an employee of the Ministry of Hajj who spoke to The National by phone.

Photographs of vehicles parked bumper-to-bumper along the seafront were posted on social media platforms, which also quickly filled with videos of heavy traffic in cities across the kingdom.

“Be aware and don’t leave your home if you don’t need to leave because we are still in a dangerous position and we have to behave like humans," tweeted Mansour Albishi from the eastern city of Jubail.

In the second phase starting on Sunday, movement will be allowed from 6am until 8pm and all mosques will be reopened for prayers, except in Makkah.

In the third step, the government plans to lift all restrictions from June 21, including those in place in Makkah.

Updated: May 29, 2020 07:01 PM

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