Number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia could hit 200,000, says health minister

The number of COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia could reach up to 200,000 within a few weeks, according to the Kingdom’s health minister. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 April 2020

Number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia could hit 200,000, says health minister

  • Minister added it was vital the public cooperated with the government’s instructions and precautionary measures

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia expects COVID-19 cases to increase by a range of between 10,000 to 200,000 maximum, and has allocated an additional SR7 billion ($1.86 billion) to its healthcare budget. 

“According to the results of four different studies conducted by Saudi and international epidemiology specialists, numbers of cases in the coming few weeks are expected to increase by 10,000 at a minimum, and to 200,000 maximum,” Saudi Minister of Health Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said in a speech delivered on Tuesday. 

He also said that if the current increase was maintained during the next four to 12 months, that he would guarantee the ministry’s readiness to deal with the virus with the highest standards and without overwhelming the health sector.

The minister stressed that all the proactive, strict precautionary measures taken by the government to eliminate the spread of the virus would reduce contact among people by 90 percent, and that the next period primarily depended on public cooperation and their commitment to authorities’ directives.

“Allow me to speak to you with full transparency, though it might be painful,” A-Rabiah said. “Unfortunately, some members of society did not take the epidemic severity seriously, nor did they adhere to the authorities’ instructions to avoid gatherings, as we have seen in the past days … which indicate that we need more measures to protect society.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman directed an increase of the healthcare budget to SR15 billion on Monday, after a virtual meeting with health officials. 

The budget will raise the health sector’s readiness and secure medications, additional beds and health supplies, such as artificial respirators, testing devices and sample kits.

The ministry has submitted requests estimated at SR32 billion more until the end of the current fiscal year, which have also been approved.

However, Al-Rabiah noted that despite the unlimited support from the state, the health sector faced two problems; a lack of supply of medical devices in global markets and lack of commitment by many people to the precautionary measures. 

The speech, aired on different official media platforms, came a day after the authorities imposed a 24-hour curfew in five Saudi cities and governorates including the capital Riyadh.

Al-Rabiah noted that the 24-hour curfew decree was implemented in line with the health ministry’s recommendations in an effort to reduce people’s movement and gatherings to the absolute minimum. 

“Studies in the past few days have indicated that the traffic rate in the country is still at 46 percent, which is a very high percentage and does not help to achieve the required goal.”

He noted that Saudi society was at a critical moment, and that a sense of responsibility was crucial to help overcome the current crisis.

The minister said that the expectations for the next few days did not indicate any decrease in the number of cases.

Dr. Feras Naji Al-Bluwi of Al-Hamra Primary Healthcare Center in Riyadh said that people should remain home. 

“Nothing can prevent you from infection except staying at your home,” he told Arab News, adding: “Leaving home should be limited to very basic needs like food and medication.

“It is about decreasing infection risks to the individual. We don’t want people to get paranoid, but they have to be careful.” 

He stressed that the current measures were to protect the health system from collapsing, but most people were treating the current period as a “vacation”. 

“The new restrictions, including 24-hour curfew, are to decrease the number of cases so the health system can deal with them properly,” he said. “Cases are increasing because people did not stop gathering and going out for unnecessary reasons as if they were on a vacation.”

Al-Bluwi gave tips on how individuals could contribute to eliminating the spread of the virus: “Stay home, maintain your personal hygiene, sanitize or clean whatever you bring home from outside. Water and soap is enough — get rid of any disposables like plastic bags, use delivery apps and pay electronically or by wifi to avoid any contact with others.”

He noted that no one could anticipate when they might catch the virus or transmit it to anyone else.

“Many people say it isn’t a dangerous virus. It actually is — it is highly contagious, unlike regular flu, and no one should take it less seriously even if they think they have a strong immune system,” he added.


Life getting back to normal as restaurants, coffee shops reopen across KSA

It is also mandatory for restaurants and coffee shops to check the temperature of customers, and ensure a space of at least 1.5 meters between them. (AN photo by Fahad Al-Zahrani)
Updated 01 June 2020

Life getting back to normal as restaurants, coffee shops reopen across KSA

  • The government has laid out rules and regulations for employees returning to work in the state and private sectors

RIYADH: Restaurants and coffee shops in Saudi Arabia have reopened their dine-in sections to customers after more than two months of closure as a part of the lockdown imposed by the government to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The reopening comes as a part of the second phase of a government plan, announced on May 26, to resume economic activity and gradually return to normal.
The second phase reduces the curfew and increases time allowed for people to venture out to 14 hours a day, and permitted the resumption of domestic flights.
Arab News toured different neighborhoods in Riyadh, and noticed a large number of people meeting their families and friends in restaurants and coffee shops. Most of them adhered to the government’s regulations of social distancing and were wearing face masks.
Siham Hassanain, CEO and founder of Siham International Trading Co. that owns and operates a chain of restaurants and coffee shops, said that she had not expected such a huge number of people to show up.
 “People want to go out, yet the coronavirus still exists. It still poses a danger and is still spreading.”
The Ministry of Municipal and Rural affairs posted a series of tweets regarding the protocol that restaurants and coffee shops should follow.
As per the protocol, they are obliged to limit the maximum number of clients who can sit at a table to 5 people unless members of one family. It is also mandatory for restaurants and coffee shops to check the temperature of customers, and ensure a space of at least 1.5 meters between them.
The regulations also advise food providers to use disposable items to serve food such as paper or plastic cups and dishes as well as electronic food menus. It also restricts some practices that may contribute to the spread of the virus such as serving Shisha or opening children’s playing areas in shops.
Hassanain said that most people were complying with government instructions, and most of the violations had come from teenagers and young adults.
Riham Ahmed, a 23-year-old student from Riyadh, said she chose to have her lunch with her friends in a restaurant despite fears expressed by her family.
“I’m taking all the preventive measures, putting (on) my face mask and staying away from crowded places, but I have to meet people and go outside, I can’t afford more time of isolation at home,” she said.
The government has also laid out rules and regulations for employees returning to work in the state and private sectors. For the time being, offices are not to be filled to capacity, with only 30 percent of employees allowed to occupy them at any given time, and those in offices must have their temperatures checked prior to entering the building.
The rules also state that handshakes are banned, face masks must be worn at all times, and employees must use sanitizer to wash their hands regularly throughout the day. Furthermore, employees with preexisting health conditions such as immune deficiencies, asthma or respiratory problems, or the morbidly obese, are all exempt from returning to work.

FASTFACT

The reopening comes as a part of the second phase of a government plan, announced on May 26, to resume economic activity and gradually return to normal.

The ministry also recommends that digital means be relied on as much as possible in order to minimize contact and try to prevent people from returning to their offices unless necessary. The full list of regulations is available on the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s website.
Sarah S, a government employee, told Arab News that she had gone back to work but that she was not sure how much she liked the environment. “The office was mostly empty, and it felt wrong. Like when you stay late on a Thursday or come in on a weekend. It’s very eerie and a little unsettling to see so many empty desks,” she said.
She added that while the office was taking every precaution, people were still cautious about the reopening and a constant sense of apprehension still filled the office.
“Everyone is on edge. It will take a lot of time for us to readjust to the idea of being in an office. Things that seemed so normal and mundane before, like handshakes, or sharing files, are all causes for concern now,” she said. However, some employees, who are still working from home, feel the opposite way and wish that they could be in the office instead.
Nawaf M, a human resources employee at a private company in Riyadh, said that everyone from his department was still working from home, but he would prefer to be in the office.
“I don’t like working from home. I feel like the office atmosphere is so important to maintaining a sense of professionalism and producing results,” he said.
While he realized that the threat of the coronavirus is still strong, he said that practicing good “pandemic etiquette” would ensure his safety and allow life to regain some normality again.