Saudi Arabia to carry out community testing to curb COVID-19

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Municipal workers in Al-Jouf are tested for COVID-19. (SPA)
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Health officials in Jazan examine a man for possible COVID-19 infection. (SPA)
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Updated 01 May 2020

Saudi Arabia to carry out community testing to curb COVID-19

  • The concept of mass screening had been adopted by many countries
  • No truth to that health officials will be knocking on random doors to test people

JEDDAH/RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Health has taken another step in its fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) by introducing community testing surveys.

“If need be, this will be conducted in an organized manner through scheduled screening appointments across the Kingdom,” a source at the ministry told Arab News, adding there will be no knocking on random doors to test people.

According to media reports, the initial circulated date for the commencement of testing was set to be Friday, May 1, which the Health Ministry’s spokesperson, Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, denied.

“We noticed yesterday the circulation of false information, where messages were exchanged about the active survey teams entering homes to start the testing, which is incorrect,” said Al-Aly.

The mass testing aims to relieve the spike in cases and catch areas that are already infected early to stop further cases from arising.

During a mass screening procedure, medical teams normally visit places where previous infections have been reported, and subject people to tests in order to make sure there are no further cases of COVID-19.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Zahrani, an orthopedic surgeon at Al-Mana General Hospital, told Arab News that there was no doubt that screening tests for COVID-19 were a great step forward.

“We know that prevention is the gold standard in the management of the pandemic on both national and international fronts. As many infected people do not show any signs or symptoms of the illness in the so-called period of incubation, these people are especially responsible for the spread of the disease, and they are the ones screening tests are done (for) in a susceptible population,” Al-Zahrani said.

Health officials in Jazan examine a man for possible COVID-19 infection. (SPA)

He added that the concept of mass screening had been adopted by many countries, such as the UK, where an average of 10,000 tests were done on a daily basis at the beginning of the pandemic.

He said that tests recently reached 50,000 per day in the UK, and that they were planning and hoping to reach 100,000 tests a day in their campaign of mass screening.

Speaking to Arab News, community medicine consultant Dr. Abdul-Hafeez Khoja said that the Kingdom took pride in the ability of its leaders to implement modern scientific measures in the fight against the pandemic.

“They are implementing the measures in several stages, studied and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and officials in the field of infection control at the Saudi Ministry of Health, who have a high level of experience in this field, through their proper handling of previous pandemics,” Khoja said.

While adopting such a step, Khoja said, Saudi Arabia was disregarding the massive financial costs of mass testing and following its principle of “health first and the economy second.”

He said that the importance of this campaign from a scientific point of view depended on the characteristics of the virus, which does not reproduce and lives only within the living cell.

The virus’ presence in nature, he said, would lead to its death after a few days unless it can reach a human being and multiply in its cells.

“The second fact is that infection with this virus can occur as soon as it enters the human body and before symptoms appear,” Khoja said, adding: “One of the characteristics of this virus is that it is contagious before the symptoms appear on the infected person.”

The consultant sent two messages to the community, as a preventive and community medical expert saying: “This is our role towards our family and community in detecting anyone who carries the virus, even if I’m the one infected.”

He assured people in his second message that those detected to be carrying the virus will not be blamed nor their family. “Only home quarantine steps will be taken as a bold, scientific step to eliminate the virus.”

Saudis head out as lockdown eases

Updated 29 min 33 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.