Saudis head out as coronavirus lockdown eases

Saudi residents stepped out of their homes on Thursday to visit various places, taking advantage of the newly relaxed measures. (Photo credit: Abdullah Al-Faleh)
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Updated 29 May 2020

Saudis head out as coronavirus 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.


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

Updated 3 min 51 sec ago

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.”