The Ministry of the Interior of Saudi Arabia on Friday announced a 24-hour coronavirus lockdown and nationwide curfew for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which is scheduled for May 23 to 27 in the kingdom.
The exact date of Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, is determined by sightings of the crescent moon.
Under the rules of the lockdown, Saudi mosques will not open for Eid prayers, so Muslims were advised to pray at home. Eid is usually a highly social occasion, but the Ministry of the Interior banned gatherings of more than five people, or more than one family if the respective family members live in different houses.
Penalties for violating the lockdown include steep fines beginning at about $2,600 in U.S. dollars and increasing for repeat offenses. Both organizers and attendees will be fined for social gatherings that exceed the prescribed limits.
Although Saudi malls and retail stores were open during Ramada, they will be closed during the Eid lockdown.
Arab News reported this week that Egypt is planning a six-day curfew during the Eid holiday and Jordan will “restrict movement of vehicles on the first day of Eid al-Fitr.”
Voice of America saw Pakistani shoppers rushing to buy food, gifts, and sweets for the traditional Eid celebration ahead of possible restrictions, while Indonesia and many other countries with large Muslim populations have joined Saudi Arabia in banning large gatherings, while generally stopping short of complete lockdowns. A notable exception is Iran, whose horrific coronavirus epidemic was concealed as much as possible by the ruling regime, and which now seems determined to proceed with large Eid gatherings provided the participants observe social distancing rules.
CBS News noted the decision to lock down over Eid was made because “infections have surged back in recent weeks.” Saudi Arabia’s 42,925 confirmed cases give it the largest coronavirus outbreak in the Gulf region, alarming Saudi health officials so much that they have considered suspending the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.