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 student takes part in international program for COVID-19

The CVT collaborates with Harvard Innovation Labs, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Innovation Initiative, the COVID Foundation, and over 20 other organizations. (ReThe CVT collaborates with Harvard Innovation Labs, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Innovation Initiative, the COVID Foundation, and over 20 other organizations. (Reuters/File)ters/File)
Updated 04 August 2020

Saudi student takes part in international program for COVID-19

  • Al-Towijri’s CVT role includes writing articles, designing social media posts, and welcoming and guiding new members

JEDDAH: For the last few months, high school student Talal Al-Towijri from Alkhobar has been investing his time during the pandemic to work with students from across the globe to make the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) more understandable to the public, having joined the US-based Coronavirus Visualization Team (CVT).

The CVT is a nonprofit, crowdsourced student network founded at Harvard, seeking to disseminate information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are a group of over 1,000 skilled and passionate students from different countries across the globe who are working remotely on leveraging data analytics and visualizations for the public about COVID-19’s ongoing impact,” Al-Towijri told Arab News.
The organization was established to combat the current “infodemic,” or information overload, which can be inaccurate and misleading.
“It is a tech-net community of data scientists and analysts, developers and communicators,” said Al-Towijri. “We also work with professors and industry professionals to introduce quality statistics and to better visualize and share the impacts, present and future, of COVID-19.”
Al-Towijri’s CVT role includes writing articles, designing social media posts, and welcoming and guiding new members.
“By joining CVT I felt like I was doing something to help the world instead of sitting around during the lockdown,” he said.
The students’ group works with partners to publicize accurate and digestible information and help organizations fighting on the frontline and developing data-driven policy proposals.
The CVT data visualizations display information from multiple, often overlooked, angles, such as climate implications, socioeconomic factors, and societal aspects.
Moreover, such data analytics can help businesses, nations, and individuals not only understand the disease impact but also to explore coronavirus recovery strategies.
“My team and I are a crowdsourced group of passionate school and university students from around the world who are voluntarily analyzing data on all matters COVID-19 including socioeconomics, census statistics, mental health, and pollution-related data.”
The CVT collaborates with Harvard Innovation Labs, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Innovation Initiative, the COVID Foundation, and over 20 other organizations, and is seeking more partnerships around the world, including in the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Middle East and North African regions.
Al-Towijri joined when the organization was first launched in April by Harvard student Lucas Chu as a member of the Coronavirus Visualization Community (CVC) before he became a managing member of the CVT itself.

HIGHLIGHTS

•The CVT is a nonprofit, crowdsourced student network founded at Harvard, seeking to disseminate information surrounding the pandemic.

• The CVT data visualizations display information from multiple, often overlooked, angles, such as climate implications, socioeconomic factors, and societal aspects.

The CVT has launched different projects and initiatives, including online events and panels with prominent guests in the field of health and science from top international universities and organizations.
He is very proud of his experience at the CVT. He believes that skilled and passionate high school and university students who are keen to invest their abilities in a rewarding volunteering experience should join such organizations.
He said: “Most students are talented by nature, but they are usually not given chances that could push them out of their comfort zones.”
“Therefore, I believe there should be more student-run organizations in the Kingdom, and there should be more activities for students where they can engage with the community and feel productive, helpful, and powerful,” he added.
 Al-Towijri noted that there is a lack of student-run organizations in the region with sustainable goals and sustainable support from big organizations.
For him, such organizations need support and access to resources as much as they need passionate leaders to help them grow and prosper.
“What distinguishes CVT is that it is crowdsourced and student-run; we are students reporting to students, it is a beautiful community that feels like a family,” he said.
Al-Towijri believes that CVT has a strong potential to expand its reach in the Kingdom by partnering with universities and different companies, as he believes many students in the country are highly skilled and passionate to make the world a better place.
“I want more Arabs and Saudis to join the organization,” he said. “Any student with minimal skills in research and writing can join.”
The CVT can be reached at www.understandcovid.org.