Saudi Arabia closes schools over coronavirus concerns

Saudi Arabia closes schools over coronavirus concerns
The Saudi Ministry of Education said the closure covers all educational institutions, including public and private schools, and technical and vocational training institutions. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 March 2020

Saudi Arabia closes schools over coronavirus concerns

Saudi Arabia closes schools over coronavirus concerns
  • Teachers to use distance learning and virtual classrooms
  • All scientific and Quranic lessons, lectures, and workshops have been suspended in all mosques starting Monday

RIYADH: Schools and universities will be closed in Saudi Arabia from Monday to control the spread of coronavirus.

The Saudi Ministry of Education said the “preventive and precautionary” measures were recommended by the health authorities and are designed to protect students and staff.

The decision covers all educational institutions, including public and private schools, and technical and vocational training institutions.

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“The Minister of Education directed that virtual schools and distance education be activated while the schools are closed to ensure that the educational process continues in an effective and quality manner,” the ministry said.

The Kingdom's Education Minister, Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh, confirmed that the decision was a precautionary step and said that they are conducting daily and weekly evaluations before returning to school.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, confirmed that there have been no coronavirus cases in any educational facility in the Kingdom.
“Thank God, the situation is reassuring, and there has been no case in any educational facility. However, the increasing cases in countries have made us keen to enhance the safety of our sons and daughters. So we coordinated with the Ministry of Education to close the schools temporarily,” he said in a tweet on Sunday.

The education ministry has set up supervision offices to help coordinate the distance learning, and respond to parents’ inquiries.

A new committee set up by the ministry will also ensure the virtual schools are functioning through the distance learning methods provided by the ministry.

These include the virtual school platform (Vschool.sa) and mwterials available from the Apple and Android stores.

It will also provide lessons through the “Ain” TV channeland as well as on YouTube via this link: www.youtube.com/dorosien.

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The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque also said on Sunday that it will suspend the visitation programs in its external facilities as part of recommended precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and ensure the safety of visitors.
The facilities include the King Abdulaziz Complex for the Covering of the Holy Kaaba, the Gallery of the Two Holy Mosques, and the Library of the Holy Mosque of Makkah.
“The presidency has taken a series of precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, by intensifying sterilization work that is taking place around the clock, and has been keen on coordination and joint cooperation with all relevant government sectors,” it said in a statement issued on SPA.
It added that these preventive efforts come within the procedures that are being implemented by the Saudi government seeking to combat the spread of the new virus, to protect the people of the Two Holy Mosques in particular, and citizens and residents in the Kingdom in general.


Sterilization efforts intensify at Makkah’s Grand Mosque as Umrah pilgrims arrive

Sterilization efforts intensify at Makkah’s Grand Mosque as Umrah pilgrims arrive
Updated 26 July 2021

Sterilization efforts intensify at Makkah’s Grand Mosque as Umrah pilgrims arrive

Sterilization efforts intensify at Makkah’s Grand Mosque as Umrah pilgrims arrive
  • Foreign pilgrims will be able to perform Umrah with the start of the new Islamic year which is expected to fall on August 9

RIYADH: Sterilization at the Grand Mosque is being intensified as the holy site begins to receive Umrah pilgrims after the completion of Hajj 2021.
Procedures for regulating entry and exit, the allocation of specific lanes for people with special needs and the distribution of Zamzam water bottles to prayer areas, courtyards and tawaf areas are also in place to ensure the safety and comfort of pilgrims.
Foreign pilgrims will be able to perform Umrah with the start of the new Islamic year which is expected to fall on August 9, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Hajj for Hajj and Umrah Services Hesham Saeed told Al-Ekhbariya news channel.


Saudi navy unveils latest warship Jazan in Spain

Saudi and Spanish officials attend the unveiling of the latest Avante 2200 corvette for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) at the Navantia shipyard in Spain on July 24, 2021. (SPA)
Saudi and Spanish officials attend the unveiling of the latest Avante 2200 corvette for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) at the Navantia shipyard in Spain on July 24, 2021. (SPA)
Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi navy unveils latest warship Jazan in Spain

Saudi and Spanish officials attend the unveiling of the latest Avante 2200 corvette for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) at the Navantia shipyard in Spain on July 24, 2021. (SPA)
  • The Avante 2200 corvette is the fourth of its type being built in a joint venture between Saudi Arabian Military Industries and Spain's Navantia

MADRID: The Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) recently celebrated the launch of the Avante 2200 corvette, which is the fourth warship of its type within the Sarwat project.

The ship, named Jazan, was unveiled by the Spanish shipbuilder as part of its ceremonial launching held at the shipyard of the Navantia Naval Industries Co., Spain.

The corvettes are being built in a joint venture between Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), and Navantia S.A., named SAMI Navantia Naval Industries.

They will be delivered in 2024, a year later than initially planned, and will feature special combat and fire control systems and integrated communications among other technologies.

The launch event was attended by the Saudi ambassador to Spain, Azzam bin Abdulkarim Al-Qain; the vice president of SAMI for corporate communication, support services and information technology, Wael bin Mohammed Al-Sarhan; as well as other senior officials from RSNF, Spanish Navy and SAMI Navantia Naval Industries.

Saudi ambassador to Spain, Azzam bin Abdulkarim Al-Qain, meets with officials of the SAMI Navantia Naval Industries in Spain on July 24, 2021. (SPA)

The commander of the RSNF, Lt. Gen. Adm. Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ghufaili, said: “The Sarawat project will contribute to raising the level of readiness of the RSNF, enhancing maritime security in the region and protecting the vital strategic interests of the Kingdom. In addition, the project ships are an important addition to the capabilities of the RSNF in protecting the Kingdom’s maritime interests and localizing advanced military industries technically.”

The Sarawat project warships feature the latest combat systems to deal with all air threats, surface and subsurface, as well as being equipped for electronic wars. They have more capabilities than many of the world’s navies, and are a further addition to the capabilities of the RSNF in protecting the nation’s maritime security.

The project also includes training services for crews, training simulators, logistics, and long-term after-sales technical and logistical support.


Umrah companies gear up to receive foreign pilgrims

Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. (AFP/File)
Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. (AFP/File)
Updated 26 July 2021

Umrah companies gear up to receive foreign pilgrims

Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. (AFP/File)
  • Industry workers could be trained to operate under pandemic conditions, says official

MAKKAH: Hundreds of companies are gearing up to receive fully immunized foreign pilgrims wishing to perform Umrah from Aug. 9.

Via an online platform, pilgrims will be given access to 500 businesses providing access to flights, transport, hotels and Umrah companies.
Hani Al-Omairi, a member of the National Committee for Hajj and Umrah and the Hotels Committee in Makkah, told Alarabiya that nearly 30 websites and platforms will be available for international reservations.
“Health courses and crowd management courses were given to all employees as several companies have commenced operations. Procedures for the rest of the companies and institutions are being finalized by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and other relevant authorities,” said Al-Omairi.
Commenting on the news, Mohsin Tutla, chairman of the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation, told Arab News the return of pilgrims could be ensured through training the industry to provide services under pandemic conditions. He added that the introduction of vigilance technology throughout the pilgrimage and further measures would help smoothen the process.
Tutla told Arab News that the demand from pilgrims to conduct rituals during the pandemic is not as high as people may think.

SPEEDREAD

• Via an online platform, pilgrims will be given access to 500 businesses providing access to flights, transport, hotels and Umrah companies. 

• Hani Al-Omairi, a member of the National Committee for Hajj and Umrah and the Hotels Committee in Makkah, says nearly 30 websites and platforms will be available for international reservations.

“Even though we can assume that people have been queuing to perform Hajj and Umrah, the reality is that people’s financial capability has been depleted.
“Where Hajj and Umrah were available and easy for the mass population and the middle income population, it is now only possible for the rich and thrifty savers.”
Tutla added: “The road to recovery and rejuvenation is not dependent on only demand, it is dependent on the development of global safety mechanisms such as the Hajj and Umrah Safe Corridor, which is currently being developed by the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation, and is being installed in 25 countries worldwide.

Demand from pilgrims to conduct rituals during the pandemic is not as high as people may think. 

Mohsin Tutla, Chairman of the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation

“Globally you will realize that demand would have dropped by approximately 40 percent for international Umrah and 15 percent for international Hajj pilgrimages.” Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. As many as 250,000 domestic pilgrims were able to register, book appointments and granted permits in the first phase.
Some 10,000 foreign pilgrims were gradually allowed back into the Kingdom in the third phase on Nov. 1 after a seven-month hiatus of strict regulations.


Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president
Updated 26 July 2021

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser has been appointed as the new head of the Islamic Development Bank for the next five years.

He has been an adviser at the General Secretariat of the Saudi Council of Ministers and the chairman of the General Authority for Competition since 2016.

Al-Jasser received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California in 1986. He obtained his master’s degree in economics from the same university in 1981, and a bachelor’s degree in economics from San Diego State University in 1979.

He served as the Kingdom’s economy and planning minister from 2011 to 2015, and as governor of the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) between 2009 and 2011. He was also the vice governor and vice chairman of the SAMA’s board from November 1995 to February 2009.

He has participated in major international events, including G20 meetings at the deputy, ministerial, governor and full summit levels. Al-Jasser also participated in regular meetings of the Bank for International Settlements from 1997 to 2011, and took part in local and international symposia, while also giving frequent lectures on economic and monetary policies.

His previous memberships of ministerial committees, boards and councils include the Council for Economic Affairs and Development, the Supreme Council for Civil Defense, and the Ministerial Committee for Mining Affairs among others.

Al-Jasser has received many awards such as the King Abdul Aziz Medal of the First Order in 2001, the Euromoney (Emerging Markets) Award for Central Bank Governor, MENA Region for the Year in 2009, the Arab Bankers Association of North America Achievement Award in 2010, and “The Banker” Award and “Central Bank Governor of the Year for the Middle East” in 2011.


Makkah’s hospitality sector eyeing recovery

The hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, says expert. (SPA)
The hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, says expert. (SPA)
Updated 25 July 2021

Makkah’s hospitality sector eyeing recovery

The hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, says expert. (SPA)
  • Several services can also be built upon within the hospitality industry to create diverse “backup sectors” that the industry can fall back in exceptional circumstances

MAKKAH: The hospitality sector in Makkah is beginning to look forward to a strong recovery from the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts predict hotels could begin to see results within two years.
The city, the third-most densely populated in the Kingdom, is particularly well served in terms of hotels — almost two-thirds of all those in Saudi Arabia can be found there. Before the pandemic it was a thriving sector, its growth fueled by the ever-increasing numbers of visitors from around the world who flock to Makkah for the annual Hajj pilgrimage or to complete their Umrah rituals.
COVID-19 changed everything. However, experts predict that after the dramatic decline in business caused by the pandemic, “hotel recuperation” plans could begin to yield results by 2023 as the world slowly starts to emerge from lockdown.
Fadhel Manqal, manager of a hotel in the city and a member of the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and industry hotels committee, told Arab News that the sector has faced immense challenges for almost two years.
“The sector has experienced an economic downturn,” he said. “This has crippled its economic power, which is an important contributor to the local economy. It has borne the burden of the effects of the pandemic, which has had a negative effect on all areas of the global economy, including significant implications for the hotel sector.

FASTFACT

The city, the third-most densely populated in the Kingdom, is particularly well served in terms of hotels — almost two-thirds of all those in Saudi Arabia can be found there.

“Makkah’s hotels were not spared; they have suffered substantial losses, leading some to close down and others to suspend their activities or recover partially. Many have suffered losses worth billions.”
Manqal said that the hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, with more than 1,300 hotels that are expected to receive 30 million pilgrims by 2030, as visitor numbers increase as a result of the National Transformation Program and the wider Saudi Vision 2030. But it is still suffering real hardship, he added, despite the early signs of recovery.
The hospitality industry has been irreversibly changed by the health crisis, he said, adding that despite the efforts of some governments to minimize the effects and reduce losses, it has been an economic catastrophe for the sector and the fates of many businesses hang in the balance.
“Not everyone is capable of recovery, adapting or even reorganizing,” said Manqal. “The large five-star hotel chains near the Grand Mosque in Makkah will certainly recover quickly, especially the ones in the central area or the commercial districts near the holy sites in Al-Aziziyah.
“There is no doubt that the unfolding effects on the industry pose a challenge even for more-experienced hotel owners.” For this reason it is vital that businesses plan for the future and confront obstacles, he added.
Saudi authorities began to look for ways to help people and plan for recovery early in the pandemic, said Manqal. For example, they provided assistance through the SANED unemployment insurance program for the families of Saudi hotel workers.
With continued support from the authorities, and the gradual return of Umrah pilgrims from within the Kingdom and, in initially limited numbers, other countries as vaccination rates increase around the world, Manqal said that he expects the sector to begin to recover by 2023.
This gives hospitality providers time to consider their options and develop a better understanding of their perfect hotel guest, he added, but some service providers will face greater challenges than others, particularly those that were heavily dependent on the annual Hajj and Umrah seasons.
Economic analyst Fadl Abu Al-Ainain told Arab News that he expects the sector will continue to experience hardship until the end of this year and that greater public and private sector support, in the form of exceptional incentive programs, as well as the Kingdom’s rapidly expanding vaccination program, will alleviate the continuing effects of the pandemic on Makkah’s hospitality industry.
“Recovery is linked to the return of pilgrims at levels similar to those in the past, and this cannot be achieved due to the coronavirus,” he said. “Consequently, change in the sector is closely linked to a full recovery from the pandemic. Thus, there should be greater focus on reducing the effects of the pandemic on the sector through the provision of government support, as well as measures to reduce the financial burdens on the sector.
“There should be a mechanism for coping with exceptional circumstances, which would also require an enhancement of crisis management that would cover financial and operational damage,” Al-Ainain added.
“The sector has not achieved efficiency in combating crises, and its ability to withstand shocks is nonexistent, but the pandemic situation might open the door for the development of strategies to urgently manage crises in the future.
“I think that reconsidering the value of lease agreements and fixed costs, in partnership with the government, are tools that could be used to address this crisis, and that more sharing of risk among all parties to a contract might reduce the magnitude of losses and the burden of them falling mostly on just one side.”
Several services can also be built upon within the hospitality industry to create diverse “backup sectors” that the industry can fall back in exceptional circumstances, Al-Ainain said, lamenting the fact that “no one searched for them in the past due to the steady and easy income during the high season.”