Dozens of members of the ruling Saudi royal family, up to 150, have been infected with a coronavirus in recent weeks, according to a press article.
Saudi Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – governor of the capital Riyadh who is in his forties – is in intensive care after contracting the virus, according to the New York Times, which cited hospital communications, doctors of the country and sources familiar with the family.
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) have withdrawn in isolation to avoid the epidemic.
Doctors at an elite hospital that treats members of the royal family are preparing an additional 500 beds for an expected influx of patients.
“The guidelines must be ready for VIPs across the country,” wrote operators of the elite facility, King Faisal Specialty Hospital, in a “high alert” sent electronically to senior doctors on Tuesday and obtained subsequently by the Times.
“We do not know how many cases we will receive but a high alert,” said the message, which ordered “that all chronic patients be removed as soon as possible” and only “most urgent cases” will be accepted, according to the newspaper.
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The alert added that all infected staff will now be treated in a less elite hospital to save space for the royal family.
There are thousands of Saudi princes. Many travel regularly to Europe and sSome have contracted the virus abroad and brought it back to Saudi Arabia, the report said.
The kingdom of about 33 million people has reported 2,932 cases and 41 deaths.
The country, home to the holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina, has banned the Umrah pilgrimage all year and sealed off the areas in early March.
Travel within and outside the country, as well as between provinces, has since been largely restricted, and four governorates and five major cities have been locked in 24 hours a day.
Authorities have yet to announce whether they will do this year’s Hajj, scheduled for late July. Last year, an estimated 2.5 million people traveled to Saudi Arabia to participate in Hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if possible.
Worse to come
So far, most members of the lower branches of the royal family have been infected, a source familiar with the situation told The Times. The vast majority of cases in the country have occurred in migrant labor camps and slums around Mecca and Medina.
But as the epidemic spreads across the country, Salman, the 84-year-old king, has isolated himself in an island palace near Jeddah, while the crown prince moved to an isolated site on the Red Sea coast.
A Saudi health minister warned on Tuesday that the country’s epidemic has only just begun.
“Over the next few weeks, studies predict that the number of infections will range from a minimum of 10,000 to a maximum of 200,000,” said Tawfiq al-Rabiah, according to the Saudi official news agency.
It is estimated that the Saudi royal family has approximately 15,000 members.
At the beginning of March, several members of the royal family and officials were arrested in what some observers would have called repression linked to a plot to suppress MBS.