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.


Gold a safe bet for Saudis despite VAT increase

Despite the hike in prices after the increase of the VAT to 15 percent, customers are still flocking to gold shops in the Kingdom. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 12 July 2020

Gold a safe bet for Saudis despite VAT increase

  • Gold surged to its highest price in nearly 8 years and is expected to reach new record highs

JEDDAH: Gold plays a dual role. It is an investment and luxury commodity in times of economic prosperity, but also a haven in times of crisis.
Gold may be able to play a role in restricting the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as precious metals are considered a tool for hedging against inflation and depreciation.
Unlike other commodities like oil, gold has been universally accepted as a form of payment and has a power surpassing that of any other commodity. It has the ability to control the expansion of credit and is a favorable hedge against inflation. It can also function as a safe bet against declining currencies.
Salah Salem Al-Amari, general manager of the Salem Hasan Al-Amari Sons Co., has more than 35 years experience in the world of gold and jewelry. He spoke to Arab News about the importance of gold and its significance in these turbulent times.
“The global gold market has been significantly affected this year due to the pandemic, especially since shops remained closed for a long period of time and salaries had to be paid. But in Saudi Arabia, our government stood beside its people and supported us through the SANED insurance program and helped mitigate the effects and restrict the losses caused by the virus,” said Al-Amari.
Despite the lockdown, sales have dropped since people have become more aware and careful while under lockdown. However, a scramble to spend has been observed since restrictions were eased and many people are buying ingots for investment as well as Saudi gold guinea coins.
“The coronavirus has hit our high season, including summer vacations, festivals, weddings, Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr,” Al-Amari said, adding: “However, thanks to the government’s decision to increase the VAT to 15 percent, which coincided with the decision to lift the curfew throughout the Kingdom, shoppers rushed to buy gold before the introduction of the VAT and we made great sales.”
Al-Amari said that those who wished to buy gold with minimum loss tended to opt for low-cost jewelry as gifts for others or for themselves and are more likely to buy the jewelry available in their stores.

In my experience, people should buy gold as a safe investment despite the increase in prices, especially since coronavirus is not going away anytime soon and trade disputes between China and the US will weaken the global economy, which would significantly affect the price of gold due to the currency depreciation and devaluation of international stocks.

Salah Salem Al-Amari, General manager of the Salem Hasan Al-Amari Sons Co.

“In my experience, people should buy gold as a safe investment despite the increase in prices, especially since coronavirus is not going away anytime soon and trade disputes between China and the US will weaken the global economy, which would significantly affect the price of gold due to the currency depreciation and devaluation of international stocks,” said Al-Amari.
He added that people are more likely to sell stocks and bonds and rush to buy gold in times of disaster, crisis and conflict. This is why gold is considered a safe investment.
Saudi shoppers and investors are not the only ones rushing to buy and invest in gold. This same scenario is replicated all around the world and experts, economists and analysts are encouraging people to invest in the precious metal during these difficult times.
Gold surged to its highest price in nearly 8 years and is expected to reach new record highs.
“Market prices for gold have reached $1,810 an ounce and I expect it to reach $2,000 before the end of 2020,” Al-Amari said.
While in lockdown and to ensure sales continue despite the situation, Al-Amari’s company utilized the power of social media, where it played a significant role in marketing their products and customers were able to buy their products online and receive them through home delivery.
“Gold is still people’s favorite metal to invest in or own as jewelry,” he said.
Despite the hike in prices, customers are still flocking to his shop.
Talas B., a Syrian resident in the Kingdom and a frequent customer of the shop told Arab News that he has been shopping there for 7 years. “I came today to buy jewelry for a special occasion despite the increase of prices,” he said.
Others are disappointed by the price increases in gold.
Um Abdullah, another customer at the shop, said the VAT increase and gold price hike has affected her shopping.
“The VAT has affected my purchases. I used to buy whatever I like before, but today I have be to very careful. Sadly, I cannot even buy a ring,” she said.