150 members of the Saudi royal family have coronavirus: report

Up to 150 members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family have contracted the coronavirus, a person close to the family told The New York Times.

Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulziz al Saud, the governor of Riyadh and a nephew of King Salman, was confirmed to have tested positive by two doctors, according to the Times. Many of the thousands of princes in the family are believed to have brought back the virus after traveling to Europe, the newspaper reported, citing doctors and people close to the family.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and many of his ministers are in isolation on the coast of the Red Sea, while the 84-year-old King Salman is also in isolation near the city of Jeddah, according to the newspaper.

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The kingdom took numerous precautions in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus even before it officially reported its first case on March 2, including banning pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest sites in Islam that draw millions of worshipers annually, and placing its major cities under a 24-hour lockdown.

“If it is reaching into the family, then it becomes an urgent issue,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a professor at Rice University who studies the kingdom, told the Times.

The country has reported 41 deaths from the virus and 2,795 cases as of Thursday, but officials have warned the worst is likely ahead for residents, with Tawfiq al-Rabiah, the Saudi health minister, saying the number of infections in the weeks ahead “will range from a minimum of 10,000 to a maximum of 200,000.”

The country’s capacity for testing has been limited, as is the case for numerous other countries, creating an unclear picture of the actual conditions on the ground.

The first known case acknowledged by the Saudi government had recently returned from Iran, the epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East. One of the government’s first steps was to lock down eastern regions with a high Shia population who were more likely to have visited Shia religious sites in Iran, according to the Times.

However, non-Saudis are at the highest risk for the virus in Saudi Arabia, including the migrant workers from Southeast Asia or less wealthy Middle Eastern nations who comprise about a third of the country’s population, three doctors told the Times, noting that many live in crowded conditions and commute to work on cramped public transportation.

The Hill has reached out to the Saudi Embassy in Washington for comment.