Live Updates: Elite Saudi Hospital Braces for a Wave of Royal Patients

Live Updates: Elite Saudi Hospital Braces for a Wave of Royal Patients

The epidemic hits the Saudi royal family hard.

More than six weeks after Saudi Arabia reported its first case, the coronavirus is striking terror into the heart of the kingdom’s sprawling ruling family.

As many as 150 royals inside the kingdom are believed to have contracted the coronavirus, including members of the family’s lesser branches, according to a person close to the family.

Doctors at the elite hospital that treats the Saud clan are preparing as many as 500 beds for an expected influx of royals and those closest to them, according to an internal “high alert” sent out Tuesday night by hospital officials.

“Directives are to be ready for VIPs from around the country,” the operators of the elite facility, the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, wrote in the alert, sent electronically to senior doctors. A copy was obtained by The New York Times.

“We don’t know how many cases we will get but high alert,” the message stated, instructing that “all chronic patients to be moved out ASAP,” and sick staff members will be treated elsewhere, to make room for the royals.

The senior Saudi who is the governor of Riyadh, Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is in intensive care with Covid-19, according to two doctors with ties to the King Faisal hospital and two others close to the royal family. Prince Faisal is a nephew of King Salman.

King Salman, 84, has secluded himself in an island palace near the city of Jeddah on the Red Sea. His son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 34-year old de facto ruler, has retreated with many of his ministers to the remote site on the same coast.

Like the hospitalization this week of the British prime minister or the deaths last month of several top Iranian officials, the affliction of Saudi royals serves as a reminder that the rich and powerful are not immune, and that they have better access to testing and expert care.

Nations tiptoe toward easing lockdowns, keeping an eye on China.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is stable and “responding to treatment” for the coronavirus, but remains in intensive care, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Mr. Johnson was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital in London on Sunday and transferred the next day to the intensive care unit, where he received oxygen but was not put on a ventilator. He is not suffering from pneumonia, his aides said on Tuesday, but his illness has brought concerns about the government’s ability to make major decisions in the midst of the outbreak.

Downing Street declined on Wednesday to comment on what treatment Mr. Johnson was receiving or to say who was treating him, though it repeated previous statements that he is breathing without assistance apart from receiving oxygen.

The office also noted that he was in good spirits but made clear that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, initially asked to stand in for Mr. Johnson “where necessary,” was now doing so full time. The prime minister is able to contact those he needs to speak to, but is not working.

Mr. Johnson is still the head of the government, but the seriousness of his illness means that could change quickly. At a time of extraordinary challenge, Mr. Raab is already serving as chairman of a key committee on the pandemic as the government works to control the spread of the virus and stabilize an economy hit hard by the lockdown measures it has imposed.

Concerns about the prime minister’s health come as the government prepares to next week review measures that have closed down much of the economy, though there are no signs as yet of an imminent easing.

Officials warned on Wednesday that the peak of the outbreak in Britain could be at least 10 days away, and that talks of easing restrictions were premature. Mayor Sadiq Khan of London warned against reducing measures imposed to stem the spread of the virus.

I think we’re nowhere near lifting the lockdown,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “I speak to experts regularly: We think the peak, which is the worst part of the virus, is probably a week and a half away.”

The Nightingale, the emergency hospital that was built in less than two weeks at a London conference center, received its first patients on Tuesday, a spokesperson said on Wednesday. It will be able to provide ventilation treatment to more than 2,800 patients.

A commentary published on Wednesday on Xinhua, the state-run news agency, declared that Wuhan’s “cautious unblocking is far from a final victory over the health threat,” but cast the city as a symbol that “a global victory will eventually be secured” through determination and hard work.

In scenes reminiscent of the final moments before the lockdown was imposed in January, passengers in oversize raincoats, goggles and masks rushed to a railway station to board the first trains out of the city, just as restrictions on outbound travel were lifted.

Still, the government has encouraged Wuhan residents to stay inside their homes. Sentry posts outside apartment complexes and in neighborhoods continued to register the coming and going of residents. Some areas have continued to restrict people from leaving their compounds. Older neighborhoods remained walled off, usually with sheets of blue cladding, to ensure that people could not evade the checkpoints.

The busiest newly reopened businesses appeared to be banks, where many people, especially older residents, unfamiliar with online banking lined up to make deposits, transfer funds or check their accounts. The banks and other larger businesses took temperature checks before allowing people to enter in limited numbers.

Children were a less common sight, with many parents still worrying about allowing them outside while the risk of infection lingered.

But some found the official projection of the city’s return to normal life loftier than the reality on the ground.

“It feels like all the excitement exists only on the internet,” one Weibo user wrote. “After all, we’re still trapped in our neighborhoods.”

Food has proved to be the universal language, with many on social media sharing photos of their first meal post-lockdown — most commonly the city’s famous hot dry noodles and beef noodles — or images of their cravings to be satisfied as soon as possible.

France’s flagship military aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, was heading back to port after some sailors on board showed symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus, the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

The W.H.O., a United Nations agency, has defended its response, saying on Wednesday that it had alerted the world to the threat posed by the virus in a timely manner and that it was “committed to ensuring all member states are able to respond effectively to this pandemic.”

The agency’s defenders say that its powers over any individual government are limited, and that it has done the best it can in dealing with a public health threat with few precedents.

“During the Brexit debate, people used to say what we really need is a common enemy — and now we’ve got it,” said David Goodhart, a writer whose last book, “The Road to Somewhere,” explored the divide in British society between the rooted and the rootless. “Except this is an invisible enemy.”

Meanwhile, a man has been jailed for three months after he was caught stealing surgical masks from King’s College Hospital in South London, the Metropolitan Police said on Wednesday. The man, Lerun Hussain, 34, pleaded guilty to stealing three masks on April 5 and was sentenced on Tuesday.

China’s critics, including the Trump administration, have accused the Communist Party’s authoritarian leadership of exacerbating the outbreak by initially trying to conceal it. But China is trying to rewrite its role, leveraging its increasingly sophisticated global propaganda machine to cast itself as the munificent, responsible leader that triumphed where others have stumbled.

What narrative prevails has implications far beyond an international blame game. When the outbreak subsides, governments worldwide will confront crippled economies, unknown death tolls and a profound loss of trust among their people. Whether Beijing can step into that void, or is pilloried for it, may determine the fate of its ambitions for global leadership.

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