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.

Saudi Arabia calls for international action over decaying Red Sea oil tanker

Updated 16 July 2020

Saudi Arabia calls for international action over decaying Red Sea oil tanker

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has called for strong and decisive international efforts to deal with the global threats posed by a decaying oil tanker moored off Yemen’s Red Sea coast.

During a virtual meeting on Wednesday of the UN Security Council to discuss the stranded FSO Safer vessel, which is loaded with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil, the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the UN, ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, highlighted the “grave risks” the ship presented.

The 45-year-old tanker has been anchored about 60 km north of Hodeidah since the start of Yemen’s civil war five years ago. Iran-backed Houthi rebels agreed on Sunday to allow a UN inspection team access to the ship for a maintenance check.

Al-Mouallimi said: “I would like to express our appreciation for convening this session to discuss the hazardous situation of the tanker and the dangers it is posing to the environment and maritime navigation in the Red Sea.

“The grave risks associated with this floating oil tanker threaten to cause harm to the Southern Red Sea and to the world at large as it is situated in the proximity of Bab Al-Mandab (Strait), through which vital international maritime navigation passes through between Asia and Europe.

“This dangerous situation must not be left unaddressed, and the Security Council bears primary responsibility for securing the safety and security of the area,” he added.

The envoy told delegates that an oil spill from the FSO Safer could have the potential to be worse than the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.

He pointed out that loss of oil from the ship could also result in the closing of the port of Hodeidah for months, leading to severe shortages in the supply of fuel and other essentials to the people of Yemen, and severe long-term damage to the region’s fishing industry.

Marine life, the environment, and Saudi shores would also be seriously and adversely affected, he added, and toxic gases and black clouds from any major spillage would damage agricultural land in vast areas of Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

“The Security Council has already asserted the need to confront the risks associated with this situation and warned against the catastrophic consequences that would result if this situation remains unresolved. The Security Council did so in its resolution 2511 (2020) and its press statement issued on June 29, 2020,” said Al-Mouallimi.

“We took notice of the announcement made recently by the spokesperson of the UN secretary-general that the Houthi rebels have agreed to allow access to the tanker.

“We remain suspicious of the Houthis plans and intentions, and request that the Security Council must remain vigilante and should stand ready to declare strong and decisive measures to deal with this situation and eliminate the risks posed by it.”

The ambassador said that the Kingdom stood ready to take all necessary steps that the Security Council may deem fit to handle the situation.

“The council must not allow such reckless and irresponsible behavior to stand. The council must ensure that a political solution for the conflict in Yemen is found based on UN Security Council Resolution 2216, the GCC initiative, and the outcome of the National Dialogue Conference, acknowledged by the international community as the elements of international legitimacy.”