Saudi Arabia’s active mass testing contains virus spread

The team dispatched from the ministry is multilingual in order to communicate fully with people being screened, and mostly screening was passing without incident.
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Updated 22 April 2020

Saudi Arabia’s active mass testing contains virus spread

  • Over 500,000 field medical evaluations have been conducted as part of the active screening, where teams carry out certain tests and evaluations to identify suspected cases

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health is widely using coronavirus disease (COVID-19) active screening to contain the spread of the virus, as the number of infections reached 11,631 cases on Tuesday.

The screening aims for early detection — over 150 field teams from the ministry are visiting areas, homes and residential buildings with suspected cases, and mass screen people as a precautionary measure.
Minister of Health Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said that the ministry had noticed an increase in the number of people infected with COVID-19 during the past three days due to active screening in crowded areas.
Dr. Fadwa Al-Ofi, an infectious diseases consultant, said: “By detecting these cases, we can isolate them and prevent the spread of infection to the community.”
She added that most positive cases were asymptomatic or only showed mild symptoms. “The target screening is done in high-risk areas that have a lot of cases, and crowded areas,” she said, mentioning that as of Sunday, 82 percent of cases had been identified through active screening.

The Health Ministry has noticed an increase in the number of people infected with COVID-19 during the past days due to active screening in crowded areas.

Tawfig Al-Rabiah, Saudi health minister

According to the ministry’s spokesman, Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, testing has proven effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19.
He noted that the duration of testing surveys in targeted neighborhoods ranged from days to weeks according to population density, number of housing units, residential interaction, and the number of cases discovered.
Over 200,000 tests have been carried out at the Ministry of Health’s laboratories and other leading institutions throughout the Kingdom.
According to Al-Abd Al-Aly, over 500,000 field medical evaluations have been conducted as part of the active screening, where teams carry out certain tests and evaluations to identify suspected cases.
He stressed that all the laboratories involved in conducting the tests were accredited by the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
“They have a seven-person team, and I was fortunate to join them in their expeditions,” Dr. Sharif Hala, a scientist who has been accompanying the infection control group from the Ministry of Health, told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHTS

•More than 500,000 field medical evaluations have been conducted as part of the active screening, where teams carry out certain tests and evaluations to identify suspected cases.

•All the laboratories involved in conducting the tests were accredited by the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

The team dispatched from the Ministry of Health is multilingual in order to communicate fully with people being screened, he said, and mostly screening was passing without incident.
However, there were some cases where patients refused to be tested, he added. “When a patient refuses to give their sample, they explain very calmly the reason … but most of the people didn’t refuse.”
The samples are collected and then placed inside bags with two different closures that are then secured carefully inside a box.
“They number everything very methodically. So, I have full trust in them … I was really impressed by the way that they were trained and the number of items that they have. They spare absolutely no expense in terms of gowns and masks,” he added.
For protection purposes, the Ministry of Health provides two cars accompanied by three police cars for when an incident arises.
Hala emphasized the importance of active swabbing, saying: “Active swabbing is extremely necessary because you’re stopping the virus in its tracks.”
He added: “The hospitals are not full at all. I have seen it, there is a lot of capacity for people. Specific neighborhoods and specific cities are being closed or locked down because they (the ministry) found that the transmission came from there. And this is where we come and help and research.”
Dr. Afrah Al-Somali, an infectious diseases consultant at King Abdullah Medical Complex in Jeddah, said: “Most but not all of those people living in crowded areas are able to seek medical advice in the early stages, until they reach later stages of the disease.
“Active swabbing helps to discover more cases as early as possible, isolate them and give them the proper care and support to stop the vicious cycle of infecting others.”


Blessing in disguise: How pandemic was a catalyst for Saudi SMEs to change

Saudi Arabia’s consumer behavior was transformed during the lockdown as soon as malls and stores were ordered to shut their doors, creating a frenzy among consumers. (SPA)
Updated 20 September 2020

Blessing in disguise: How pandemic was a catalyst for Saudi SMEs to change

  • E-platforms played a crucial role in SMEs’ survival
  • COVID-19 transformed people’s shopping habits

JEDDAH: Saudis continue to shop online despite the government easing the COVID-19 lockdown, with the surge in e-commerce prompting small and medium-sized enterprises to adapt.

E-commerce saved global retail markets from collapse and stopped consumers from having to go out during the first wave of the outbreak. However, SMEs were the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s consequences and e-platforms played a crucial role in their survival.
Saudi Arabia’s consumer behavior was transformed during the COVID-19 lockdown as soon as stores were ordered to shut their doors, creating a frenzy among consumers although they were quick to adapt. SMEs were also forced to adapt, not only to accommodate the growing demand for online shopping but to ensure they survived with minimal losses.
Marion Janson, the chief economist at the UN’s International Trade Centre, said in June that around 20 percent of SMEs globally may not survive the pandemic.
A recent report from Visa revealed increased anxiety among merchants in Saudi Arabia, with 67 percent of small businesses noticing a decrease in average consumer spending.
Many Saudi consumers started shopping online for the first time, primarily for essentials. The Visa report showed that two-thirds of the Saudi consumers surveyed said that COVID-19 led to their first online grocery purchase, while 59 percent made their first online purchase from pharmacies.
“With the confusion at the beginning, we didn’t know what was acceptable and what wasn’t,” said Dr. Suhad Zain, a government employee in Jeddah. “Can we risk going out to shop for our daily needs or not? We needed to be sure that everyone in the house was safe, including the driver, and not expose ourselves to the invisible menace that changed our lifestyles. Most of our groceries were obtained online, from produce to water bottles to even appliances and leisure items. It had to be done, even though we needed time to accept the new change.”
Fear of the virus is expected to change the way consumers behave forever. “It became more convenient even after the lockdown was lifted,” Zain added. “After a few months we got used to it and, as a family, it became our new preferred means of purchase.”
Such conditions were a catalyst for online commerce, according to the Visa report, with 38 percent of merchants in the country reporting the introduction of online offerings as a direct result of the pandemic while more than half had an e-commerce presence before the pandemic.

Two-thirds of the Saudi consumers said COVID-19 led to their first online grocery purchase, while 59% made their first online purchase from pharmacies. (GettyImages)


The report also said there was a surge in e-commerce, a preference for trusted brands, a decline in discretionary spending, and a polarization of sustainability. Consumers have a larger basket, but reduced shopping frequency, and will shift to stores closer to home. A change can easily be detected in Saudi consumer behavior.
But the shift to online commerce, with cash transactions being replaced by digital payments, has negatively influenced cash-only retailers and presents a tough challenge to these merchants, who have to understand the shift in consumer behavior and adapt accordingly and urgently.
“Saudi business owners currently face multiple challenges that they need to deal with when they want to shift to e-commerce, some of them even lack the knowledge of how technology could benefit them and what options it could offer,” Talal Abdullah, a business development and marketing consultant, told Arab News.
“Also some will need to find a technical partner to successfully transform to e-commerce and, most importantly, they need to revisit their business model canvas to determine how they want to employ this technology for the best of their businesses.”
In order to overcome these challenges, Abdullah suggested that business owners look for the right technical partner based on their new model.
“If they fail to find a suitable technical partner, then they need to set a clear budget for the application or website they need to set up. But before reaching out to any company that offers support with these technical services, you must get in touch with real clients of these companies and inquire about their business and how they deal with them.”
He added that seeking assistance from technical consultants or owners of similar projects could cut down on time and effort. Joining business accelerators and incubators, as well as entrepreneurship and technology communities, could help with expanding knowledge and relationships and contribute overall to a smoother transition.
But these changes have their costs too, imposing new financial burdens on an already weakened business due to the pandemic and the time required to build and adapt a new business model that targets a completely different group of customers. It is a serious challenge for many small retailers.
Abu Mohammed has been in the retail business for 20 years. He used to have frequent customers who came in for a specific type of clothing with a certain price range. But, with the lockdown, he could hardly sell anything.
“I began targeting a different kind of customer in the past couple of years where I was importing new clothes and selling them through Instagram and e-commerce websites,” he told Arab News. “However I still cannot completely substitute my current store with a completely virtual one. That needs time and money to build a reputation.”
He said the lockdown had been a harsh experience for him and that he recognized the need to expedite his old plans to transform his store into an actual brand, since people were gradually moving toward online shopping from well-known brands.
“This transformation is not going to be easy at all,” he added. “It will need a good marketing plan and well-spent money not only on tools but also staff. It is a completely new experience, however. I know e-commerce is here to stay and it is our only way forward. Otherwise my work for years will gradually vanish. This crisis could be a blessing in disguise, who knows.”