Saudi Arabia seizes 5 million 'illegally stockpiled' medical masks as kingdom grapples with coronavirus

Saudi Arabia seizes 5 million 'illegally stockpiled' medical masks as kingdom grapples with coronavirus
More than five millions illegally stored medical face masks were recovered by Saudi security forces in the kingdom, authorities confirmed on Sunday.
3 min read
29 March, 2020
More than 5 million masks were recovered by security forces in Saudi Arabia [Getty]
Saudi authorities have seized more than five million medical masks that were illegally stockpiled amid the coronavirus outbreak, state media reported on Sunday.

The commerce ministry seized 1.17 million masks from a private store in Hail, northwest of the capital, after authorities on Wednesday confiscated more than four million masks stored in a facility in the western city of Jeddah in violation of commercial regulations, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.  

The ministry said people behind such activities would be prosecuted, and that the confiscated masks would be redistributed to the open market. 

Read also: WATCH: Saudi doctor breaks down in tears after refusing son's hug over coronavirus fears

Pharmacies in the oil-rich kingdom have reported shortages of masks amid panic buying, as authorities warned against prices hikes.

The COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan in December, has killed more than 31,737 people worldwide, while over 677,705 infections have been confirmed.

The majority of those that infected with corona experience only mild or moderate symptoms, including fever and a dry cough.

As of yet, there are no known treatments for the virus, though more than 146,319 have already recovered from the infection.

Saudi Arabia is scrambling to limit the spread of the deadly disease at home. 

The kingdom's health ministry has reported more than 1,203 COVID-19 infections and four deaths so far, the highest number of cases in the Gulf region.

It has imposed a nationwide partial curfew, barred entry and exit from Riyadh as well as Islam's two holiest cities Mecca and Medina and prohibited movement between all provinces.

King Salman warned last week of a "more difficult" fight ahead against the virus, as the kingdom faces the economic double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.

Authorities, which appear to also be taking certain measures to control the public narrative around the outbreak, plan to implement the curfew for 21 days and have warned that transgressors will be fined 10,000 Saudi riyals ($2,663) and could face jail for repeated breaches.

On Saturday, the public prosecution said it ordered the arrest of "three people who exploited social media to interpret God's will amid the #coronavirus", in a statement shared on Twitter.

The prosecution said it also ordered "the arrest of a person who appeared in a video mocking the #coronacrisis and giving misleading information about the current situation".

That came after Saudi security forces arrested a man last week after he was caught spitting inside a shopping centre in eastern Mecca, local media reported.

The man, identified as a Yemeni national working in a bakery inside the mall, was referred to security after being caught spitting.

During questioning, he was taken for a medical examination which showed he was suffering from a high temperature - a symptom of the novel coronavirus - and put into quarantine and given a COVID-19 test. The test results have not yet been confirmed, local reports said at the time.

This is peculiarly the second such incident in several days, after a foreign national was arrested also for spitting on shopping trolleys in Baljurashi, southeastern Saudi Arabia. Local reports say the person also had COVID-19.

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