Saudi Arabia will finance treatment for anyone infected with the coronavirus in the country, the health minister said on Monday, while the agriculture ministry took steps to boost wheat and livestock supplies amid global fears of a food shortage.
The kingdom has registered eight deaths among 1,453 infections, the highest among the six Gulf Arab states.
Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah said King Salman would cover treatment for citizens and residents diagnosed with the virus, urging people with symptoms to get tested.
“We are all in the same boat,” he told a news conference, adding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was overseeing containment efforts “night and day”.
The kingdom’s de facto ruler was last seen publicly at a cabinet meeting on March 3, days before detaining his uncle and three cousins in a move seen as cementing his eventual path to the throne.
King Salman, his 84-year-old father, addressed the nation two weeks ago and chaired an extraordinary virtual summit of G20 leaders to advance a global response to the coronavirus pandemic.
G20 trade ministers are holding an emergency video conference on Monday to discuss cooperation on supply chains.
At a separate news conference, the agriculture ministry spokesman said Saudi Arabia would start importing at least 1.2 million tonnes more wheat next month, adding to strategic reserves of about one million tonnes.
Abdullah Abalkhail said the kingdom also expanded the list of countries from which it can import livestock.
Saudi Arabia has taken drastic steps to contain the coronavirus, halting international flights, closing most public places, and imposing a partial curfew.
Restrictions on movement have tightened with entry and exit to Riyadh, Mecca, Medina, and Jeddah heavily restricted.
The world’s last major coronavirus outbreak, in 2012, began in Saudi Arabia, where a faltering response allowed the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to kill several hundred people and spread across the region.
This time around, the kingdom was better prepared, public health officials say. Their experience of MERS meant hospitals had already established separate triage units for respiratory illnesses, with specialized ventilation to protect medics from infection.
At least two hospitals also had drive-thru testing in place and seven weeks before the first domestic case, authorities developed guidelines to deal with the new virus.