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  • The kingdom of about 34 million people has reported 3,287 cases and 44 deaths.

    The kingdom of about 34 million people has reported 3,287 cases and 44 deaths. | Photo: EFE

Published 9 April 2020

King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) have retreated into isolation to avoid being contaminated.

At least 150 members of the ruling Saudi royal family contracted the COVID-19 disease in recent weeks, The New York Times reported Wednesday citing hospital communications, doctors in the kingdom and sources familiar with the family.

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The governor of the capital Riyadh who is in his 70s, Saudi Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is in intensive care after being infected by the virus.

King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) have retreated into isolation to avoid being contaminated. The 84-year-old king, quarantined on an island palace near the city of Jeddah, while MBS fled to a remote site on the Red Sea coast.

Health care professionals at an elite hospital reserved for royals are preparing 500 more beds for an expected surge of patients, while any infected staff members will have to be treated at a less elite hospital to save space for royals.

"Directives are to be ready for VIPs from around the country," officials at the elite facility, the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, wrote in a "high alert" sent electronically Tuesday to senior doctors and obtained by the Times.

"We don't know how many cases we will get but high alert," said the message, which instructed "all chronic patients to be moved out ASAP" and only "top urgent cases" will be accepted, according to the newspaper.

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The Saudi royal family has about 15,000 members, many of whom regularly travel to Europe. Some are thought to have contracted the virus there and brought it back to Saudi Arabia, the report said.

Mostly members of lesser branches have been infected so far, a source familiar with the situation told the Times, while the vast majority of cases in the country were registered in poor migrant camps and slums around the cities of Mecca and Medina, among non-Saudis.

On Tuesday, the country’s health minister warned in a rare television address that the outbreak may only be starting.   

"Within the next few weeks, studies predict the number of infections will range from a minimum of 10,000 to a maximum of 200,000," Tawfiq al-Rabiah said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

The kingdom of about 34 million people has reported 3,287 cases and 44 deaths as of Thursday.

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