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Fri 20 Mar 2020 01:21 AM

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Saudi king warns of 'difficult' fight against impact of coronavirus

King Salman makes televised speech as the kingdom faces double blow of virus-led shutdowns and low oil prices

Saudi king warns of 'difficult' fight against impact of coronavirus

Saudi Arabia's King Salman warned Thursday of a "more difficult" fight ahead against the new coronavirus, as the kingdom faces the double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices.

"We are going through a difficult stage," the king said in the first televised speech by a Gulf leader on the pandemic.

"The next stage will be more difficult at the global level to confront the rapid spread of the pandemic," he added.

Saudi Arabia has reported 274 Covid-19 cases but no deaths so far.

The Arab world's biggest economy has shut down cinemas, malls and restaurants, halted flights and suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage as it steps up efforts to contain the deadly virus.

Saudi Arabia has also suspended prayers inside all its mosques except the holiest two sites in Islam in Makkah and Madinah.

The world's top crude exporter also faces plunging oil prices, the mainstay of government revenue, which slipped below $25 a barrel this week to touch 18-year lows on the back of sagging demand due to the virus and a price war with Russia.

Saudi Arabia will trim this year's budget by around five percent, the finance minister said on Wednesday, in its first austerity measure.

More than 1,000 cases of the virus have been recorded so far across the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

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