Saudi Arabia’s health ministry announces two more deaths, 110 new coronavirus cases

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry announced 110 new cases of coronavirus, along with two new deaths in the Kingdom on Tuesday. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 31 March 2020

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry announces two more deaths, 110 new coronavirus cases

  • The two latest people to die from the virus were residents of Madinah
  • The case total in the country has reached 1,563

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.


Saudis head out as lockdown eases

Updated 15 min 15 sec ago

Saudis head out as lockdown eases

  • First day of phased reopening sees visitors flock to waterfronts and malls

JEDDAH/RIYADH: As the 24-hour-curfew period ended, residents of Saudi Arabia headed back outside on the first day of the government’s three-phase plan to transition back to normality after the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as people rushed to take advantage of the newly relaxed measures, streets quickly became crowded and several observers noticed that many were failing to observe social-distancing measures.

Prince Abdulrahman bin Mosaad tweeted: “For there to be traffic in the streets is natural after canceling the 24-hour curfew, but what’s abnormal and unbelievable is the amount of people underestimating the necessity of putting on a face mask and a pair of gloves and keeping a two-meter space between people crowding at stores. This is only the first day. Unfortunately, I don’t think Shawwal 29 (June 21) will be the day we go back to normal.”

In a follow-up tweet, Prince Abdulrahman reminded people that the pandemic does not have a cure or a vaccine yet, and wondered whether people would need to lose a loved one before they came to appreciate the severity of the situation.

University lecturer, Abdulfattah Al-Qahtani (@fattah53), agreed, tweeting: “Sadly, not many understand the dangers of the virus, and what they could be doing to their loved ones. It’s very simple; don’t go out unless it’s necessary. If you absolutely have to, follow precautionary measures from wearing a mask to keeping an acceptable distance between you and others.”

Abdulaziz Al-Omar (@11a_alomar) also replied with suggestions. “It’s important to monitor and penalize facilities and shops that do not follow precautionary regulations, as well as fines against those who don’t wear a mask and don’t keep their distance from others,” he tweeted.

The hashtag #JeddahNow was quickly trending on Twitter in response to the number of people leaving their homes unnecessarily.

A number of users suggested that individuals neglecting social distancing and going out in public without a mask and gloves would be “more afraid of a SR10,000 fine than they are of the pandemic.”

However, many thought that people were overreacting to the traffic around the city’s corniche.

Sa’ad Mughram (@saad_mghrm) tweeted: “Don’t blame people for traffic. There are families that have been pressed together for three months in small apartments and reef houses. It’s their right to go out and see the sky on a short car ride.”

He added: “Overcrowding stores needs to be addressed, but things can be dealt with calmly, without overreacting and perfectionism from some.”

Sadly, not many understand the dangers of the virus, and what they could be doing to their loved ones. 

Abdulfattah Al-Qahtani , University lecturer

Some hailed the efforts made by several popular stores around the Kingdom that are enforcing social distancing, such as Madinah’s Starbucks, where a photo circulating on social media showed people lined up with the recommended space between them, demonstrating what was described as “classy behavior.”

Abdullah Al-Humaid, (@abn_humaid) commented: “It’s wonderful to see such awareness displayed in our society. These are people maintaining social distancing while wearing gloves and face masks.”

Meanwhile, many headed onto the streets of Riyadh looking to regain a sense of normality. “Of course, I went out. I took my mom and sister and drove to the nearest mall to run some errands,” 26-year-old Sarah Al-Jasser told Arab News.

However, Al-Jasser said she was unable to enter the shops inside the mall because of long queues. “I was surprised that people were out this early. We were at the mall by 9:30 a.m. and didn’t expect it to be this crowded,” she said.

By 2:30 p.m. most shops and malls were already closed and empty of customers and shopkeepers, abiding by the 3 p.m. curfew.

Rayed Mustafa, 33, told Arab News he believes the situation is still unsafe: “Just because the country is opening up doesn’t mean it’s safe to go out.”  However, that did not stop him from leaving  the house. “I pulled an all-nighter, put on my face mask and gloves and hit the streets at 6:30 a.m. to cruise the city.”

He added that he stayed in his car and was merely hoping to get some fresh air for his mental well-being. “I’ve been confined in a very small apartment for over a month,” he said. “I needed that change of scenery.” 

He said he made sure to abide by the safety and health measures put in place by the Ministry of Health, and refrained from mingling with people.

Mustafa was taken aback by the number of people he saw on the streets. 

“One of the main streets in Riyadh was filled to the brim — some celebrating, others going out for coffee,” he added.

Billboards have been placed around the Kingdom reminding people to comply with the recommended precautions in order to ensure their safety.