JEDDAH: The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised the decision by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to provide free medical treatment for everyone in the Kingdom infected by the coronavirus.
In his daily briefing on Tuesday, Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly noted that the king’s decision, announced on Monday, was an inspiring move that has earned global praise.
“The director general of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, described it as a great example that embodied the meaning of ‘health care for all,’” Al-Aly said.
In a message posted on Twitter a few hours earlier, Adhanom wrote: “This is what #HealthForAll means! Thank you so much @KingSalman for your leadership and commitment to ensure everyone has access to the health services needed to fight #COVID19. I hope other countries will follow your lead! Solidarity!”
The offer of free treatment at government and private medical facilities applies to all citizens and residents, even those in violation of residency laws.
Al-Aly said 110 new cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 had been confirmed in Saudi Arabia, bringing the total to 1,563. Two of the new cases involved people returning from other countries.
“Precautionary measures were taken as soon as they arrived in the Kingdom,” Al-Aly said.
The remaining 108 patients contracted the virus from others who previously tested positive, and “precautionary actions were taken and they are under medical supervision,” he added.
The highest number of new cases are in Riyadh (33), followed by Jeddah (29), Makkah (20), Qatif (7), Alkhobar (4), Madinah (3), Dammam (3), Hofuf (2), Jazan (2) and Dhahran (2). Abha, Khamis Mushait, Khafji, Ras Tanura and Al-Badayea each reported one case.
“Most of these patients are stable and receiving the required medical attention,” Al-Aly said.
However, 31 patients are in critical condition, he added, and there were two more virus-related deaths in Madinah, bringing the total number of fatalities in the Kingdom to 10. An additional 50 people have been given the all-clear, bringing the total number of recoveries to 165.
Al-Aly said that of the 22,000 people who have been quarantined in the Kingdom, some in hospitals and some in self-isolation, 50 percent have now completed the mandatory 14-day isolation.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide stands at more than 801,000, he added. There have been 38,000 deaths and 166,000 people have reportedly recovered.
He stressed the ongoing importance of adopting healthier habits and following all rules and regulations introduced to slow the spread of the virus, and of seeking medical attention as soon as symptoms appear.
Sami Al-Shuwairikh, a spokesman for the Saudi General Directorate of Public Security, echoed this advice, in particular highlighting the importance of observing the recently introduced curfew.
“We must follow the safety instructions given to us and abide by the curfew hours every day to prevent the virus from spreading,” he said.
In the past four days, he added, the security authorities received 11,488 calls requesting medical assistance. The Red Crescent Authority evaluates each case and action is taken based on the severity of the symptoms and the condition of the patient.
“Only 6,771 requests were approved,” said Al-Shuwairikh. “The rest were declined as (the symptoms) were not as significant and they could afford to wait.”
Meanwhile the Ministry of Health on Tuesday responded to a common question posted on Twitter asking about the capacity of hospitals in the Kingdom to treat coronavirus patients.
Al-Aly said more than 80,000 beds are available. More than 8,000 can be used for intensive care, and 2,000 are dedicated to the advanced isolation that is appropriate for the most complex epidemiological cases.
“There are also containment and capacity backup plans (that if needed) can accommodate a greater number,” he added.